Throughout 2019, Food Council staff, Council Members, and partners will be visiting Montgomery County Public Schools that have implemented exemplary wellness initiatives that encourage students to make healthier, more conscientious choices. We are hopeful that sharing and celebrating these wonderful accomplishments will motivate schools throughout the County to adopt similar wellness programs and promote a celebration of existing and evolving school wellness initiatives.
In 2014, Ms. Sarah Preston, an Oakland Terrace Elementary School parent, approached the school principal Ms. Cheryl Pulliam with an idea: creating a School Gardens Committee that would work with the PTA and students to plant and manage a garden in the large courtyard area of the school. Ms. Preston had a background in environmental work, and had planted gardens at her childrens’ former schools in Baltimore. The plan was approved, and Ms. Preston worked with other parents, staff, and students to install the courtyard garden that is now a focal point for the school. On April 8th, the Food Council had the opportunity to visit Oakland Terrace and learn more about the garden and the various other wellness initiatives that the school has introduced.
The school garden is managed by Ms. Preston, now a para-educator at the school. Students of all grade-levels, parents, and teachers contribute to planting and upkeep in the garden on a year-round basis. The various gardens within the courtyard, including a colonial garden, sensory garden, woodland garden, pollinator garden, and salad science garden, each serve a different purpose and parallel the classroom curriculum so that students can continue their learning in a different environment and with a different lens. For example, the colonial garden features plants that were grown during the colonial period for consumption, medicinal purposes, uses in the home, etc., and ties in with the 5th grade history curriculum. The salad science component is geared towards 2nd graders, and the lettuce and radishes grown in the garden are picked and enjoyed by students at a salad party later in the spring. The courtyard also features a designated “Outdoor Classroom” with stumps for students to sit on, and a learning cart with books and supplies so that teachers can easily conduct lessons in the garden. A memorial garden in the center of the outdoor space allows students to pay tribute to beloved teachers that have passed.
Aside from the impressive garden, Oakland Terrace has introduced a variety of other wellness initiatives to encourage healthy habits amongst the students. Ms. Debbie Brickhouse, the school nurse, and Ms. Kimberly Hughes, the school guidance counselor, help facilitate running programs (Girls on the Run and Let Me Run), and a walking program, the Ocelot Club. These programs encourage students to stay active during the school day, to meet new people and make new friends, to spend time outside, and to learn about maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
The school has implemented staff-focused wellness initiatives as well, such as organizing workouts together after school, sharing healthy recipes, logging workouts, and supporting and participating in the running programs for students. Staff members also expressed a very positive response to recent changes to the MCPS school cafeteria menu, particularly enjoying the teriyaki meatballs and yogurt with berries. Students have also benefitted from changes to the menu, many of them trying new foods like vegan chicken nuggets and consistently choosing water over milk. The school has a salad bar for students to fill up their plates, though they also offer pre-packed veggies for kids that prefer an easier grab-and-go option. Signage in the cafeteria queue area teach students about the benefits of eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables, and also details the most common types of produce grown in Maryland.
Oakland Terrace is a certified Maryland Green School, and has various environmentally-friendly initiatives in place. Fourth graders collect the recycling from all classrooms and offices on a weekly bases, and the Green Team helps to facilitate energy and water conservation efforts throughout the building. The staff and students working in the garden conduct simple composting by bringing yard waste such as sticks and weeds to a nearby wooded area rather than throwing the waste in the trash.
The Food Council thanks Oakland Terrace for welcoming us, and congratulates the students, staff, and community for all of the outstanding wellness initiatives that the school has put in place. We would also like to thank Ms. Marla Caplon, the MCPS School Wellness Director, for connecting us with the staff at Oakland Terrace and for overseeing these fantastic programs. Check back soon for a blog post about the next stop on our next school wellness campaign!