Students and staff at Tarver-Rendon Elementary School like tending their garden as much they eating its bounty.
The produce is used to stock the Mansfield school’s salad bar, the only elementary school in the district that has one.
“The primary focus of the program is to expose our students to agriculture and how it affects our everyday lives,” said teacher Shaye Atwood. “By working in the garden and studying farming on a larger scale, students can get a glimpse into all that it takes to produce food for our country.”
Atwood said students are invested in the vegetables because they worked with the plants from seedlings all the way to harvest.
“Students can make a direct correlation between the concepts experienced in the garden and the learning objectives in their classrooms,” she said.
And it appears to be working — especially in the lunchroom.
“I like the fruit,” said Sam Kleinjan, 9. “Particularly the strawberries.”
Principal Jamie Norwood said the program — called School of Agricultural Leadership — was part of Superintendent Jim Vaszauskas' s vision to offer schools of choice in the district.
“We had already been offering activities outside in our Discovery Park at the Ron Whittson Ag Barn,” Norwood said. “We are fortunate enough to have access to this facility and because of grants through MISD Grant Foundation were able to start our Discovery Park, our outdoor learning classroom.”
Norwood said they focus their agriculture program to educate students about local farmers, such as Walnut Creek Farms in Alvarado, and explain the origins of food.
“This would include how to grow food,” Norwood said. “All TRE students are involved in our Ag program. Second, through fourth graders have an actual Ag class each week.”
Rita Denton, director of student nutrition, said she's proud that the students produce school-to-table vegetables.
“It is priceless to teach a child to make half of their plate fruits and veggies,” Denton said. “This is something that will stick with them for life, as they grow into productive citizens. It also allows students to try unique fruits and vegetables that they may not otherwise get to try very often.”
She said her goal with the school nutrition program is to feed and energize students so they can excel.
“We want to set them up for success by serving them good, real food,” Denton added. “We all know students have to take a fruit and/or a veggie to get a meal in the school café per federal regulations. But our objective ... is to have those fruits and veggies consumed instead of tossed in a trash can.”
The salad bar offers proteins as well, from hard-boiled eggs to sliced turkey.
She said if a student brought their lunch to school but they still want to come up for a small sampling, they are more than welcome.
“We don't charge students for daily samplings,” Denton said. “Teachers and visitors can custom create a chef salad for only $5 and that meal includes a bottle of water. They can also opt to create a large side salad for only $1.50 or a small salad for $.75. I hope this will take off with teachers and parents. A great healthy option at a great price to enjoy while visiting students.”
She said students wear big smiles as they make their salads.
“We love to see their proud faces as they spot their homegrown produce on the salad bar,” Denton said. “Overall I observed a lot of great looking plates and students engaged in their meal. It is wonderful.”