Garfield Elementary School sixth-graders planted seeds and vegetables in a new garden on campus last week as Dustin Bucher, a volunteer with Mollen Foundation and a chef, showed them how much space to leave between the plants for growth.
The vegetable garden at this central Phoenix school is the first to be built to help lower the incidence of toxic stress among Arizona’s children thanks to Kohl’s Mindful Me, which is a partnership between Kohl’s, Phoenix Children’s Hospital‘s Center for Family Health and Safety and the Mollen Foundation.
Sixth-graders Antonio Lara said he liked digging the holes and planting the seeds, while Madaly Carrasco said she liked painting the stakes to mark what was planted and Sherlynn Zayas said she couldn’t wait to taste the food that they grew.
That interest is just what Lianne McGinley, behavior specialist at the school in a low-income Phoenix neighborhood, was looking for to help students gets excited about learning.
The garden is just one part of Kohl’s Mindful Me program that teaches students skills to manage stress and regulate their behavior through gardening, yoga and mindfulness.
Over time, the program also will reach out to build resilience in students’ families and the community through positive parenting classes, community gardening and cooking classes.
Nearly 1,000 Kohl’s volunteers helped build the garden at Garfield Elementary and the company is funding Mindful Me with a donation of $490,000, which is made possible through the donation of profits from the sale of Kohl’s Cares books and soft toys, said Deb Kuczora, vice president/district manager of District 50 with Kohl’s.
“The last couple of days Kohl’s has been here to help build, because we are so proud to be partners with Phoenix Children’s Hospital in helping you start your garden,” Kuczora told students after they planted their first crops in the garden.
“We’re going to come back and watch what’s going on. I can’t wait to hear about the spicy lettuce, cauliflower and carrots you are growing, and you guys are going to tell me how they taste and maybe share it,” Kuczora said. “Now you have to help make this money do something big in this community. You’ve got to help me keep this going on.”
This summer, teachers at Garfield Elementary began training on creating a trauma-sensitive school with the Adverse Childhood Experience Initiative at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
In Arizona, about 26 percent of children from birth to age 17 have been exposed to a traumatic event, or adverse childhood experiences, such as poverty, abuse, exposure to violence, substance abuse, mental illness or family instability. These traumatic events can deeply affect a childrens’ mental and physical health and can manifest as chronic health or behavioral issues.
“What we’ve seen with adverse childhood experiences is that children sometimes don’t know how to regulate their emotions, and it’s difficult to deal with the things they’re having to cope with at home,” said Beheir Johnson, healthy kids and families program specialist at the Center for Family Health and Safety at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
Kohl’s Mindful Me program helps students overcome those adversities and teaches them how they can regulate themselves, and the garden has been a key component of that mindfulness, Johnson said.
“There’s a lot of evidence to support that gardening helps children build relationships,” said Allison Gilbert, a healthy kids and families program specialist at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. “It helps children accept people that are different from themselves, and encourages learning and a desire for education.”
In September, Kohl’s Mindful Me program began with yoga and mindfulness lessons for students at this Phoenix Elementary School District campus, and the program will continue to provide tools to help manage the effects of adverse childhood experiences to Phoenix-area schools interested in the program until 2019.
“In just eight weeks, our sixth-graders and the classes involved have the highest attendance in the school, and they have the lowest incidence of behavior,” McGinley said.
Other students see the change, and they can become involved once the after-school gardening program is up and running, McGinley said.
Work has also started on the in-ground garden beds for the community garden – Garfield’s Garden on the Corner, which was made possible through a shared use agreement with Garfield Elementary, the Phoenix Elementary School District, Mollen Foundation, Vitalyst Health Foundation and the Maricopa County Department of Public Health.
“We’re integrating curriculum into the school day for students, and also opening up to the community after school hours,” said Paige Mollen, president of Mollen Foundation. “We’re going to have a full kitchen connected to it, with a pizza oven in the corner, so we can integrate not only gardening, but cooking lessons throughout the year.”
Garfield’s Garden on the Corner will also have a seed library and compost free to community members so they can take what they’ve learned at the school, garden and kitchen and implement it at home, Mollen said.
“The one thing that we struggle with is how do you make healthy food affordable and accessible,” Mollen said. “A big part of what we do here is making sure we can provide access and make it affordable.”
Later this school year, parenting classes will start at Garfield Elementary and volunteers will break ground on a second garden at Heard Elementary in Phoenix.
“Next year, we are looking for another school that may be interested in having a garden for students on campus,” Johnson said.