Celebrating Our Hearts at Concord International School

This post by Apple Corps team member Kelly Shilhanek originally appeared on Apple Corps: the Blog. Kelly is a Nutrition Educator with the Washington Service Corps at Concord International School.

Ms. Kelly & Ms. Pam give lap-markers to speedy 1st graders!

Ms. Kelly & Ms. Pam give lap-markers to speedy 1st graders!

“We only get one heart!” Ms. Kristin McGee, Concord’s P.E. teacher, reminded students as we sat in a circle in the middle of the gym. “It’s not like you can go to the heart store and buy another one…” Giggles ensue, and students are wiggly and ready to run. “Does your heart stop beating when you go to sleep?” she asks. Most students shake their heads. “It slows down, but your heart never stops beating from the time you are born until the time you die.”

Every time I hear that statement, I’m sobered by the fact that my heart beats, beats and beats, and I never think twice about it. It is incredible to appreciate this powerful organ that keeps our bodies and brains alert and in motion every second of each day. I tell myself to make sure I take care of my heart, because I definitely don’t want to have to go to the heart store!

With heart health in mind, Apple Corps worked in tandem with Ms. McGee to promote a cardiovascular riff on the Valentine’s theme. Students are encouraged to have fun while building their cardiovascular endurance while walking, jogging and running around the gym to compete for individual and classroom prizes. Most students ran at least one mile during their P.E. class time, and a few future track stars logged two miles in 20 minutes! Cumulatively, the Concord student body ran 550 miles during the course of one week – approximately the distance between Seattle and Mt. Shasta in Northern California. This year, teachers also got the chance to participate in Healthy Heart Valentine’s Week through a staff-wide competition to see who could take the most steps using a pedometer over the course of the week.

Concord students had fun and worked hard. 3rd graders noticeably revved up when Macklemore played on the speakers, kindergartners zoomed around the gym without stopping to collect their lap-trackers, a 5th grade student encouraged her classmate to keep moving with the call “c’mon, girl power!” – and one 1st grade class impressed everyone by accumulating 35 miles in one P.E. period. I didn’t know first graders could run that far and so fast!

Encouraging healthy habits is easier when everyone is having fun, which is a core idea behind Healthy Heart Valentine’s Week. It’s a good reminder for me, too – eating healthy and working out should feel exciting and engaging, not like a chore. So here’s to healthy hearts, healthy habits, and gooooooo Concord!

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Kids learn how to get healthy & have fun in the kitchen

This school year, Solid Ground’s Apple Corps program will begin using the Cooking Matters for Kids curricula for students attending Concord and Emerson Elementary Schools. This nutrition education will be taught throughout the entire school year by Apple Corps AmeriCorps members serving one-year terms as well as one Solid Ground Nutrition Education Coordinator. Every classroom will receive a weekly 30- to 45-minute hands-on cooking class that promotes nutrition and culturally-relevant healthy cooking.

Curriculum for Cooking Matters for Kids classes includes lessons focusing on colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, smart snacking and even smarter shopping. It also ties in grade-appropriate literacy and geography components of the Washington state Common Core standards to cooking. The program also seeks to serve the whole school through both classroom lessons and school-wide health promotions, such as Healthy Halloween and Healthy Heart (Valentine’s) Day.

One of the first things explained in the Cooking Matters for Kids curriculum myplate_greenis the MyPlate diagram. The diagram emphasizes the amount of each food group you should have on your plate at meal time – from fruits, vegetables and dairy to whole grains and protein. When it comes time to choose the food to put on your plate, some of the tips that are provided in these classes are as practical as freezing bread or fruit before it spoils to use it at a later time.

Another wise shopping tip for kids is that fruits and vegetables at the front of the produce section at the grocery store usually represent what is in season. More often than not, this means it is going to taste more fresh and cost less than other fruits and vegetables. For those who are not yet ingredient-savvy, “brown bread” is not always whole grain. (Anything containing enriched flour, bran or wheat germ is not considered whole grain.) Also, cereals at eye level for kids are usually the ones highest in sugar and are packaged with bright colors and cartoon characters to appeal to children.

The Cooking Matters for Kids lessons take many things into account given the diverse audience that they are designed to teach. For instance, some recipes initially call for certain kitchen gadgets that may not be readily available or affordable for all households, so alternative methods of preparation are given (e.g., instead of using a blender, mash all the ingredients together with a wooden spoon). Some students and their families may have dietary restrictions (e.g., diabetes, lactose intolerance), so alternate choices are given in those instances as well.

Photo credit: John Bolivar Photography

Photo credit: John Bolivar Photography

As expected, the recipes offered in the workbooks are very “kid-friendly.” If any particular step in a recipe is potentially unsafe and requires adult supervision or assistance, it is notated with a symbol (although safe knife skills are taught as well!). Ingredient substitutions for more exotic or expensive ingredients are also provided for families on a budget.

Other great tips the lessons provide are ways to use up the rest of a recipe that produced a large yield. For example, if there happens to be any leftovers from the Homemade Granola recipe, suggestions for future use are to eat it like cereal, use it to top a fruit salad or mix into yogurt parfaits. Or, if there are leftover rolled oats, one could use them to make oatmeal for breakfast or oatmeal cookies.

There is even a “label lingo” handout that students receive about halfway through the course to guide healthier food choices. Reading the nutritional facts and ingredients on any product is vital to ensuring that what kids put in their bodies is healthy, safe and tasty!

Do you remember cooking a lot as a kid? Did you think about things like nutrition, food groups or sugar content if/when you did cook? Let us know in the comments below!

Hamm Creek Restoration: Would you believe this is Seattle?

The rushing waters of Hamm Creek

The rushing waters of Hamm Creek

Harmony. Lots can come to mind when you really think about it. But I’m talking environmental harmony. I visited, photographed, chatted at and volunteered on the Marra Farm Giving Garden for the first time a couple weeks ago. It was one of those rare Seattle spring days where the sun lingers all day and the temperature is just right. While I poked around the farm (before getting down and dirty planting tomatoes), I kept the idea of Hamm Creek in the back of my mind.

About three days before my visit, I talked to Nate Moxley, Lettuce Link Program Manager at Solid Ground, about where I might find the creek once I arrived at the farm. He explained to me exactly where I could find it. I mean, the exact placement of the creek from any standing position, whether you’re facing north, south, east or west; are 300 feet from 4th Avenue South; next to the tallest scarecrow, etc. Let me tell you: I still missed it. After slowly exploring the farm, I finally circled back to where I’d started.

Kyong Soh, Lettuce Link’s Marra Farm Coordinator, was actively running around, filling new compost bins here and checking on tomato plants there. I asked her where I might find Hamm Creek.

“Oh, it’s right behind you!” she said. I did a mental face palm. How could I miss it? Was it that obvious? But when I turned around, I didn’t feel so dumb: No, in fact, it is not visible at all. Many people could be and are presently oblivious to this creek. Although it runs above ground (or has been “daylighted”) for about 200 feet right next to the popular neighborhood farm, it is shrouded by large bushes, smallish trees and tall grasses.

First, Kyong led me about 15 feet to the left of the main entrance, where we crouched down beneath shrubbery in order to avoid nettles in our faces and any exposed skin. This small clearing afforded us a view of darkened, lightly rushing water. The second entryway was a little more open, but still unassuming from the outside and didn’t provide much light for observing the critters and plant life contained within. The third entrance to the creek was by far my favorite: The short walk down requires little squatting or cautionary walking. A little sun peeked in through the overgrown greenery and a modest tree arched its thin branches over the stream, protecting it from daylight.

Best of all, we witnessed this tranquil setting at its finest, part of why the creek was daylighted in the first place: A man, no older than 25, sat by the creek with his bike perched next to him, relaxing and snacking in the shade, apparently taking a break from the day and choosing to do so in this serene environment – a sliver of green land in the otherwise largely industrial neighborhood of South Park, Seattle. A neighborhood with a rich history in activism and community gardening, but also known for continuously polluted air and topsoil from surrounding manufacturing facilities – and known for the contaminated Duwamish River, a superfund site which it is estimated will take 27 years to clean up.

The project to restore this creek has been a long one: What started as a trash and litter cleanup in the 1980s turned into a multi-objective restorative project spearheaded by the late environmental activist John Beal. The goals? To reestablish the Lost Fork of Hamm Creek at Marra Farm, part of the larger Hamm Creek watershed which encompasses at least an acre of land, as an ecosystem, complete with native plants, bugs, birds and even salmon rearing. Although a lot has been done over a span of over 30 years, Nate points out that after the energy put into the Lost Fork of Hamm Creek by John Beal and the daylighting process in 2000, “Over the last few years, there hasn’t been ongoing stewardship. Until now.”

Alas, after years of hard work from the community and beyond, salmon fry cannot survive in this ecosystem if people still litter or pollute the water. Alternatively, residents of the South Park community cannot enjoy the benefits of the creek if the water quality is unsafe. So now, Solid Ground has taken on the task of ongoing restorative efforts. Thanks to a generous grant from King Conservation District, as well as additional support from the Subaru of America Foundation and Russell Family Foundation, Lettuce Link staff are building ecosystems and community around the Lost Fork. By integrating our existing partnership with Concord International Elementary School, the creek is a learning tool for students. Last spring, Lettuce Link’s Education Coordinator Amelia Swinton used science-based curricula put together by Mountains to Sound Greenway with 5th graders during classes at Marra Farm, incorporating water quality safety testing including measuring the pH levels, temperature and turbidity.

There have also been ongoing discussions between Lettuce Link staff and community members about the design and content for new signage around the creek in order to enhance general knowledge about the safety and history of the creek. “We want to increase awareness about it. People have passively used the creek. You know, on a hot day they might stick their feet in it or kids might be playing in it. So we wanted to make sure that the water was safe,” Nate says.

Regarding the future, “We plan to take out invasive species like English ivy and Himalayan Blackberry and plant over 200 native plants in October,” Nate tells me.  And as for releasing fry into the streams, “The pipes downstream might be too clogged with sediment for the salmon to successfully pass through. Hatcheries may not give up their fry unless they’re sure the salmon can thrive.” But there’s still a possibility for another salmon run in Seattle’s backyard. “Right now, we’re doing more research on the conditions downstream,” he assures me.

I hope it is possible to have a living, breathing ecosystem, one where plants, animals and humans can live in harmony. If one can build community with the help of a 200-foot-long splinter of running water, then I’m a believer.

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Want to help with the Hamm Creek Restoration Project? Join us on South Park Saturdays, the 1st Saturday of every month, to get involved at Hamm Creek and the Marra Farm Giving Garden or contact lettucelink@solid-ground.org for more information.

June 2014 Groundviews: Growing healthy partnerships

Groundviews is Solid Ground’s quarterly newsletter for our friends and supporters. Below is the June 2014 Groundviews lead story; please visit our website to read the entire issue online.

If you visit Lettuce Link’s Giving Garden at Marra Farm in Seattle’s South Park neighborhood on any given day from March to October, you’re likely to find a beehive of activity — often involving groups of students from Concord International School (pre-K through 5th grade), located just a few blocks away. Via collaboration with Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link and Apple Corps programs and Concord teachers, students learn about nutrition, the environment, and sustainable gardening and food systems. 

Amelia Swinton works one-to-one with a Concord International student. (Photo by Brad Fenstermacher)

Amelia Swinton works one-to-one with a Concord International student. (Photo by Brad Fenstermacher)

At the center of the buzzing, you might find Amelia Swinton, Lettuce Link Education Coordinator, who describes her job as “the meeting ground of two different education programs.” There’s gardening education through Lettuce Link, combined with nutrition education through Apple Corps. In the fall and winter, she partners with an Apple Corps AmeriCorps member to teach weekly indoor nutrition-education lessons at Concord. Then during the growing season, classes move outdoors for hands-on gardening at Marra Farm, where kids get to “Adopt-a-Plot” that they plant, nurture and harvest themselves. Best of all, they get to bring the veggies home for their families to enjoy.

Nate Moxley, Lettuce Link Program Manager, says it’s “a collective approach. We’re working together to achieve common goals around food justice, access and education. Almost everything that we do comes back to that.”

Engaging families
Since 1998, Solid Ground’s involvement as one of several stewarding organizations at Marra Farm has greatly increased access to healthy nutritious food in South Park, and one of the most effective conduits for this has been Concord students themselves. When Solid Ground launched the Apple Corps program in 2007 to do nutrition and fitness education in schools and nonprofits, Concord became a natural partner.

In addition to classroom lessons, there are afterschool events designed  not only to engage families, but also to encourage self-determination where healthy food choices are concerned. Annual “Market Night” celebrations are one such event, combining health and nutrition information and activities with cultural sharing presentations, and an open-air market where each kid is empowered to choose from and “purchase” a variety of fresh produce.

Rained out from the outdoor classroom, Joanne cooks up some fresh produce grown at Marra Farm. (Photo by Brad Fenstermacher)

Rained out from the outdoor classroom, Joanne cooks up some fresh produce grown at Marra Farm. (Photo by Brad Fenstermacher)

At Concord’s recent Market Night, Amelia introduced us to Joanne – a 4th grader and very enthusiastic budding gardener – who has brought her family to the Farm on several occasions. Joanne tells us, “I like Marra Farm because they garden, and also they let other kids do it.” Her favorite veggie to grow is “peas. They’re actually a little hard; you have to use sticks so they can climb, and you need to water them and weed them every single time.”

Joanne definitely thinks it’s better to grow your own food rather than buy it in a grocery store because, “It’s more nutritious, because you’re proud of yourself, and you think it’s very good!” She says someday, “I’m going to go and make my own garden in the back of my house.” For now, she and her parents are happy to live so close to Marra Farm.

Another way families get involved is through student-led Community Kitchens, known at Concord as “4th Grade Cooks.” Amelia says, “The logic behind 4th Grade Cooks is that the best way to learn something is to teach it – and kids should be the nutrition teachers for their families. Kids are a great ‘carrot’ to get their whole family involved, and then it becomes a night where kids are in the lead in cooking healthy food – the end result being a fun, positive space where everybody eats a healthy, free dinner. And what family doesn’t want to come cook with their cute kid?”

Amelia Swinton helps Concord International 5th graders tell the difference between weeds and edible plants. (Photo by Brad Fenstermacher)

Amelia Swinton helps Concord International 5th graders tell the difference between weeds and edible plants. (Photo by Brad Fenstermacher)

Honoring community strengths
In South Park, 30% of residents speak Spanish, and Latino students make up the largest ethnic group (over 61%) at Concord. As an international school, the dual-language immersion program strives for all students to become bilingual/biliterate in English and Spanish. While Amelia is fluent in Spanish, she says she hopes that Solid Ground’s work in South Park will become “more community based and build leadership amongst folks from the neighborhoods where we’re working. As a white educator not from the community, this feels especially important to me.”

One way Amelia connects the community to gardening and nutrition education efforts is to invite parents and teachers to guest-teach classes in their areas of expertise. Recently, one student’s mom gave his class a tour of the Marra Farm Chicken Co-op that she helped to create. “To encourage families to share some of their knowledge is a really powerful way of switching out those roles of who has knowledge, and who’s the giver of knowledge, and who’s the receiver of knowledge.”

But she adds, “I think the most important kernels of my work at Marra Farm are getting kids to bond with nature and healthy eating – and doing so in a way that acknowledges how agriculture and farming have been felt really disproportionately by different communities. Particularly in the Latino community, there’s been a lot of suffering through agriculture. There is also a huge amount of knowledge and pride. I hope the program continues to grow in a way that acknowledges people’s different experiences, while leading with the really beautiful and important things that happen when people love on their environment, feed their bodies well, and treat animals with respect.”

Amelia says, “Part of what makes nutrition education and the Marra Farm Giving Garden such a natural fit is that nutrition is all about, ‘Eat your fruits and veggies!’ And the Giving Garden makes it possible in a community that would otherwise struggle to access produce. Where do you get fresh vegetables? Marra Farm! Actually being able to say, ‘This is important and this is how you can get it’ is really powerful.”

Nourishing healthy kids & communities

Editor’s note: This report was filed by volunteer reporter Tiffiny Jaber.

In the midst of the holiday season, Apple Corps’ message couldn’t be more meaningful: teaching children about healthy eating, exercise and growing  food to perpetuate a positive community. Apple Corps members – national service volunteers placed at area elementary schools – use innovative teaching techniques to get the kids to engage in these topics.

spinach sign 008 Apple Corps teaches students in underserved communities how to eat healthier by showing them where fresh vegetables and fruit come from, and teaching them how to cook in delicious and nutritious ways. They get kids’ hands into the soil, teach them to value the seasons of the year, and empower them to grow food at home. Apple Corps creates hands-on experiences for kids via gardens, cooking in the classroom, and by taking kids to farms to see the land and the farmers who tend it.

I recently had a chance to catch up with three of the Apple Corps nutrition educators who shared some of their experiences with me. Brian Sindel and Lisa Woo divide their time between Sand Point Elementary in Northeast Seattle and Emerson Elementary in Rainier Beach, while Kelly Shilhanek works with Concord International School in South Park.

Spending four days of the week immersed at their assigned schools, Apple Corps members collaborate closely with class teachers. The curriculum is based on the Eat Better, Feel Better program, a school-based effort of Public Health-Seattle & King County that promotes positive change in how kids eat and their activity levels.

MyPlate replaces the food pyramid as a guide for healthy eating

Lessons span a variety of topics over 12 weeks. For example, 5th grade classes focus on healthy eating around the world; 3rd grade covers plant parts; and younger grades integrate food with literacy. Brian said the focus is on a well-balanced diet. “We work from MyPlate, which replaced the USDA’s food pyramid, and we incorporate all five food groups,” he said.

The classrooms that Apple Corps members visit are treated to delicious homemade food. The members set up their mobile kitchen and provide a 45-minute cooking demonstration, which is as involved and interactive as possible for the students. Some of the food can be quite different and new to the children, so it’s not unusual for them to be apprehensive before taking the first bite. Lisa and her classes start off their snack by saying, “Bon appetit! We now may eat.” Then they each take their first “bravery bite” and talk about their likes and dislikes or show their varying approval with a thumbs up.

Veggie Mike Kim w-Andrew Ku 056Last year Brian led a Garden Recess Club for teacher-selected 3rd graders who needed extra engagement. Club sessions focused on different gardening lessons. At the end of the year, Brian put the mini-lessons together into an hour-long final session that the students taught to their classes. Brian was amazed to see these students, who were usually so quiet and disengaged, have the opportunity to be the experts and leaders for the rest of their classrooms.

The elementary schools each have their own vegetable garden onsite. The children also take field trips to various farms. Lisa notes, “All of (children in) the school have an opportunity to engage with farming in some capacity. … Concord students go to the Giving Garden at Marra Farm, a production farm Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link runs to support area food banks.” Emerson Elementary visits the Rainier Beach Urban Farm & Wetlands. Kelly is looking forward to spring when three of the six grades she works with have the opportunity to experience basiccarrots garden education at Marra Farm rather than in the classroom.

Both Lisa Woo and Brian Sindel were awarded the title of Conservation Champions last year by the Seattle Public Schools. In addition, their respective schools received $400 to recognize their work. The money went toward greening the schools. Emerson Elementary plans to initiate a composting program with the awarded funds.

Not only are the children benefiting from the Apple Corps program, so are their parents and communities. The entire school community takes part in  the Farmers Market nights Apple Corps organizes for the school families. The events are free, with all of the produce donated by PCC. Concord International Elementary holds a multi-cultural night where families bring prepared food and share an amazing feast. Marra Farm hosts a Community Kitchen where farm volunteers and sometimes students set up a primitive kitchen to prepare freshly harvested organic produce for families and volunteers.

Apple Corps members also rally the community together outside of their classrooms and teaching gardens. Third to 5th grade girls from Concord take part in a bi-yearly 5K run with the internationally-renowned “Girls on the Run” program.

This link to the “Plant Part” Potstickers activity page and recipe gives an idea of how the children are taught about plants with a delicious recipe.

You can support Apple Corps by donating through Solid Ground’s website and designating Apple Corps. If you have any questions about Apple Corps, or to see how you can get involved in this amazing program, please contact Apple Corps Supervisor Samantha Brumfield.

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