The purpose of the Kids University (KU) is to help children in our community learn the aspects of good nutrition, strengthen academic skills, and to foster teamwork as they work together developing a student garden.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Start-up to Harvest -- Kids University Garden is Up and Growing!!

                The purpose of the Kids University (KU) Garden is to help children in our community learn the aspects of good nutrition, strengthen academic skills, and to foster teamwork as they work together developing the garden.  The gardens are located in a low-income/ high crime neighborhood. This zip code has twice the national crime rate average.  It is an effort to reach out to our underprivileged community in order to help them achieve skills necessary to attain upward mobility. We do this by setting goals and utilizing the resources available to them to reach those goals.  We believe that our KU Garden furthers that objective.

                This has been a start-up project.  The children have come to understand that they are building the foundation of something that would go on for many years.  While the aspects of plant growth were pivotal in curriculum planning – various other essentials were addressed: enriching academic performance as well as developing communication and conflict resolution skills while encouraging positive character traits.

Program Strengths
                KU first met Feb. 16, 2012  with directors, interns and students. Each Thursday night, as their parents came to a parent group that met on site, the children attended Kids University.  We introduced the concepts of gardening and plant life – we formulated a plan and mapped our garden plots.           We utilized math skills, science concepts, reading, charting – and built a sense of teamwork and camaraderie with games and activities. 

                As summer approached we were able to spend more of our time in the garden itself; we observed that the hands-on experiences, using the tools provided by the Mohammad Ali Peace Garden Grant and working in the soil caused a transformation in the children.   Meeting on Thursday nights, we noticed that the children would often arrive restless and tired from a week of school activities, some students were even combative.  When given the opportunity to work with their hands and play in the large mound of garden soil purchased by two gardening  grants, they began to relax and become more sociable with the other children.  The students took pride in their hard work. 
     They enjoyed planting their favorite vegetables and fruit: corn, beans, tomatoes, broccoli, radishes, pumpkins, cauliflower, cantaloupe, peppers, squash, carrots, cilantro and strawberries. KU Gardens has two composters (one of which was part of this Grant).   Composting teaches the students a way of reducing environmental waste, converting it into natural soil enhancers.

                The thirty-eight children who attend include a wide range of ages from pre-K to 6th grade.  Our initial plan had been to accommodate only school-age children (K-6th grade).  We soon learned that the parents needed all of their children to be involved so that they could attend parent discussion groups. With this need to involve the preschool children as well, we assigned an older child to help a younger child, while still under adult supervision. Our motto became, “Each one, teach one.”  We discovered this helped to foster leadership skills in the older elementary children.

                 When school concluded for the summer, we met through the month of June on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings for 2 ½ hours, in addition to our regular Thursday night meetings. These longer sessions provided the time necessary to develop and improve communication skills and strengthen character traits.  Various activities were utilized to cultivate critical thinking skills and  allowed for longer periods of time gardening.

                Interns from Tulsa Community College credentialed by the Marriage and Family Institute of Tulsa proved to be a tremendous asset to our program.  The children gained much from interacting with these young adults.  The interns were observant and helped with planning and problem-solving and facilitated the activities.  We witnessed that the one-to-one pairing with the interns seemed to further a positive self-esteem among the children.  The children enjoyed and flourished from the positive attention of the interns.
                The response from our interns was very positive.  Xiong, a Spring intern, said that he loved the program so much that he planned to donate time during the summer. Jessica said that she had no idea when she returned from college this summer that she could be a part of something this far-reaching. She is a Child Development major at the University of Arkansas  and this program piqued her interest.    Tawania and her daughter loved it so much they wanted to continue after her internship concluded in April.  As these young adults witnessed the needs in our low-income neighborhood they would express the desire to help in various ways.  Chuck brought new shoes for two of the young girls whose sandals had broken during one of the gardening sessions. One intern brought additional nutritious snacks every time.  Nicco came and worked because he loved investing in the community.  In total twenty interns assisted during the past seven months donating 258 hours of service.  Total volunteer hours donated by everyone involved exceeds 600 hours!

                We found that the nutrition demonstrations were the favorite time of each session. Mrs. Bell featured different vegetables or fruits for the children to learn about each week.  They not only became aware of the nutrients each contained, but came to understand what these foods would do for their bodies and the importance of eating a wide variety of them.  The students assisted Mrs. Bell in the preparation of particular fruit or vegetable which would serve as the snack for the evening.  For some children it was the first time to taste many of these fruits and vegetables.  Repeatedly, we emphasized “Mrs. Obama’s Plate” dietary guidelines which is an easy way for elementary children to determine food choices.  Interns, as well, enjoyed this conclusion to each session and it proved to be the time to strengthen the bonds of friendship among the entire group.

What The Children Say . . .

The children have developed a willingness to try new fruits and vegetables when we discuss the important nutrients these foods contain and what they do for their bodies.
Sophia 7, relates to stories of the garden she has planted at home with her family and enjoys sampling a variety of fruit and vegetables.
Arrisa 9 became a regular attender during the morning session this summer and enjoyed being a leader in explaining "tool rules" to the others
Tiara, 9 took pride helping develop program from the "ground-up" and likes being affirmed for her hard work.
Trey 6, goes home each week telling his family how much we have accomplished and is very excited about "his" garden.
Roman 7 and his sister, Paislee 6,   and brother Tysen 3 enjoy bringing their parents to the garden to check growth and observe what they have accomplished.
Older brothers and sisters enjoy joining the children from time to time to assist with the heavier work.
Overall the children are extremely proud of what they have built together.

Obstacles and Challenges
                While our plans for the summer included the three scheduled mornings each week, and our regular Thursday nights, we discovered that the children from the apartment complex were not able to enlist the help of their parents to be able to attend the morning sessions. In spite of the fact that brochures had been distributed to the neighborhood school and to the neighborhood as well, morning attendance remained low.  We have learned from the school personnel that connecting with the families and enlisting their support for their children is very difficult.

                Record high temperatures and drought have created challenges to the gardening process. Sub-irrigation has been used in one of the garden plots and plans are underway to use rain barrels in the near future.  One irrigation company has been so excited by our community garden effort that they have volunteered to irrigate the garden.  Kids University Garden project was commended by the wife of Tulsa Mayor, Mrs. Victoria Bartlett, when she visited our gardens on March 31, 2012.
                KU gardens are located on a 28-acre wooded plot and various forms of wildlife inhabit the area. Directors, interns and students have found it necessary to accommodate these various animals in the garden in nonchemical, natural methods.  The students have become aware of the need to protect and care for these animals and their habitat.

Plans for the future
                Presently the garden is being maintained weekly by the students on Thursday nights and during the week by Dr. and Mrs. Bell.   Students have planted crops that will be harvested in the fall and are anticipating a good yield.  They are eager for the pumpkins to produce by early October.
                The proposed format is to increase awareness of the program when Remington Elementary School resumes in the fall semester in order to generate interest and involvement. Plans for a Winter Hoop Garden are underway in order to get an earlier start on next spring’s planting.
                KU Gardens has proven to be a means of broadening children’s awareness of the natural world and connecting them to a community effort.  We are so grateful to the National Gardening Association  for partnering with us to make this dream a reality by bestowing upon Kids University the Muhammad Ali Center Peace Garden Grant Award.