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Extension > Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds, Healthy Learners > 2016


On this blog, we share regular updates about the Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds, Healthy Learners partnership between Extension's Children, Youth & Family Consortium and Bruce Vento Elementary School.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

All Good Things Must Come to an End

By Maks Luthra and Sara Langworthy
With the beginning of a new year come changes. CYFC staff has always embraced change and seen it as the most powerful development tool for them. All good things must come to an end, and for Maks Luthra and Sara Langworthy, it’s time to move on.

Monday, December 5, 2016

A Step Toward Teacher Well-Being

By Mina Blyly-Strauss, Graduate Research Assistant — Childen, Youth & Family Consortium
We at the Children, Youth & Family Consortium (CYFC) started our work at Bruce Vento Elementary School with two projects: redesign a calming room and create a community garden. These efforts have been aimed at making a healthier environment for students. We are now adding to our projects an effort to redesign the school’s staff lounge. The goals is to make it more attractive and better able to meet the needs of the busy teachers, paraprofessionals, and other support staff who spend their days working to meet students’ varied needs.

Having places for staff to congregate for meals and conversations can offer important benefits to both students and staff. For example, Mawhinney (2010) found that such gathering spaces in a K–8 school were used for sharing professional knowledge between veteran and novice teachers and that spontaneous collaborations around student learning took place there. Teachers’ lounges have also been posited as enhancing school climate by strengthening links between different units (such as grade level teams) that may not otherwise interact much, creating stronger professional communities and cohesion that is helpful for school improvement (Ben-Peretz, Schonmann, & Kupermintz, 2005).

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Life without gardening? I don't think so!

By: Kirsten Saylor

Gardens are "living classrooms" and really upend what we have come to think of as a classroom — a space engineered by people to be effective learning spaces. In the garden, Nature is the co-teacher, and sometimes she just does what she does. I can't get the tomatoes to grow faster or slower or stop the lettuce from going to seed. I can't stop the rain from falling when I want to bring kids out into the garden. I can't get the weeds to listen to me when I ask them to stop growing into the garden beds or taking over the mulch.

headshot of Kirsten Saylor
Photo: Kirsten Saylor/LinkedIn
As the new school garden coordinator at the Bruce Vento Elementary School in St. Paul, I have an interesting job. Besides co-teaching with Nature, I work on integrating the garden into the school's curriculum, promoting healthy eating and access to healthy foods, and identifying collaborations that will work to create and maintain an educational garden space.

As the newbie, my inquiry has been like a search and find mission. I've talked with many different stakeholders: school teachers, staff and administration; people from different school district departments, parents, community-based and youth-based groups in St. Paul.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Evaluating What We Did, Why It Matters, and Where We're Going Next

By: Chelsea Hetherington

Imagine you’re considering buying a new car. How do you decide which car is right for you? You might compare cost across different models, talk to your friends about which models have more or less merit, and consider how different models might meet your needs. Then, based on the information you’ve gathered, you would evaluate your options and make a judgment (i.e., decide which car to buy).

Now imagine you’re a school principal where a comprehensive program was recently enacted. The program targeted supporting students’ success in school, increasing access to healthy foods, and fostering a supportive school community. Did the program achieve these goals? Was it worth the time, money, and effort put into it? It is any better than what the school was doing before?

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Extension Leadership Visits Bruce Vento Elementary School

By Cari Michaels and Judy Myers, Extension Educators — Children, Youth & Family Consortium
On June 7, students and teachers at Bruce Vento Elementary School in Saint Paul were happy to greet visitors from University of Minnesota Extension. Dean Beverly Durgan, Senior Associate Dean Brent Hales, Family Development (FD) Associate Dean Karen Shirer, and Director of Urban Family Development and Evaluation and the Children, Youth & Family Consortium (CYFC) Mary Marczak, were eager to learn about the progress of this partnership over the past two years.

Partnership members, including Principal Scott Masini, CYFC’s Judy Myers, and Ed Frickson of Family Innovations, shared stories and significant outcomes of the project. Visitors toured the school, including the newly redesigned calming room, several active classrooms, and outdoor schoolyard gardens.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Good Food is Good Mood!

By: Maks Luthra

“How many languages do you speak?” asked a third-grader. Ignoring my elementary skills in French, I answered, “Two.” She grinned and proudly said, “I can speak three!” It was great to see the kids at Bruce Vento Elementary School expressing pride in the diversity they bring to the school.

I started my Tuesday morning with a walk along the school garden and also attended a nutrition class with Jennifer Ogren. The garden looks fabulous and neat with the new raised beds and mulch around them.

The stage is set!

Friday, April 22, 2016

I'd rather be in the garden...

By Judy Myers

Saturday, April 9 was unexpectedly cold and breezy, but the weather didn’t stop 10 intrepid volunteers who worked outdoors at Bruce Vento Elementary School. With the help of these hardy souls, we built new raised beds for Bruce Vento's schoolyard garden and spread mulch to keep weeds from growing around the new beds. In advance of this work day, Principal Scott Masini called Washington Technology Magnet School to request student volunteers to help with the construction. His contact there said that students are always eager to help with community projects. In spite of being the end of spring break, students James, Jesus, and Paul joined us in this venture. We were grateful for the enthusiasm and persistence they brought to their work.

James, Jesus and Paul helping Principal Scott and Kirsten build the raised beds.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Recipe for Healthy Relationships

By: Maks Luthra

It is known that cooking develops creativity. Some also feel that cooking is like meditation and can be used to calm the mind. But did you know cooking can bring community together? Well, YES!!!

Bruce Vento Elementary School in St. Paul recently finished their first set of cooking class for parents, and the response has been overwhelming. Thanks to Second Harvest Heartland and their Food + You program, our families now receive food boxes every month. It has helped greatly in increasing access to healthy foods for our little students and their families. A few months ago, the parent educator found that parents were throwing away some of the food in the boxes because they didn’t know how to use them. Shirley Vang, SNAP-Ed educator at the University of Minnesota Extension and an active partner in our project, has been conducting cooking classes for parents and helping them learn to use the box items in the most efficient, healthy, and delicious way!

Parents taking initiative in cooking

Thursday, March 10, 2016

To Plant a Garden is to Believe in Tomorrow

By: Judy Myers

Extension Educator & Co-facilitator for Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds, Healthy Learners partnership with Bruce Vento Elementary School

Imagine a whole day devoted to schoolyard gardens. As a great champion for school and community gardens, Michelle Obama would have enjoyed seeing over 300 participants at the fourth annual Minnesota Schoolyard Coalition Conference at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

Betti Wiggins, Executive Director, Detroit Public Schools’ Office of Nutrition described herself as “just a school cook.” Her keynote presentation certainly indicated she’s not “just anyone.” She has significantly changed the nutrition program in the Detroit school district where she’s taught food service workers the value of serving fresh foods from school gardens and a district school-run farm. She eliminated chocolate milk and French fries from school menus and introduced more fresh fruits and vegetables. Elementary students grow tomatoes, yellow squash, and peppers to make the “stop light salad” in their classrooms; high school students enjoy more variety at their salad bars.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Walk through Karner Blue

By: Maks Luthra

Imagine walking through a well-lit, exceptionally quiet school hallway with pastel-colored walls, beautified by paintings of nature and soothing music. What a wonderful feeling!

On January 29th 2016, the CYFC team visited the Karner Blue Education Center, a school in Anoka County that connects students to their world through a compassionate and creative learning environment. The name of the school comes from an endangered butterfly species, Karner Blue, which only exists in two counties of Minnesota: Anoka County and Winona County.

The design of Karner Blue Education Center is based on a nature theme serving students with special needs, and departs from traditional school floor plans as it brings nature indoors to provide a calming atmosphere and creates a controlled outdoor space for students to learn, play, and relax. The school design incorporates more open and daylight spaces that assists faculty and supports the students as they learn life skills of self-regulation, coping, communication, self-efficacy, and socialization.

The 72,000 square foot education center has a capacity of 130 students with 6–8 teachers per classroom, supporting them to self-regulate their emotions and behaviors, build caring relationships with adults and peers, and be physically and emotionally healthy.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Goodbye Nora, Welcome Maks!

By: Nora Fox and Makshita "Maks" Luthra

With the beginning of a new year comes exciting changes and updates to the Bruce Vento project. One such development is the addition of our newest team member, Makshita "Maks" Luthra, as the new graduate research assistant!

From Maks

My name is Makshita (or Maks) and I am a dentist and a graduate student at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, pursuing a master’s degree in Public Health Administration & Policy. Prior to enrolling for the graduate program, I practiced at a charitable dental hospital, served as a community health educator and worked as a healthcare management associate with a consulting firm in India. I also volunteered with a non-profit organization dedicated to conducting extensive analysis and research on the needs of institutionalized children. I assisted young girls in identifying their strengths, motivated them to achieve their goals and facilitated their journey toward an independent and sustainable life.

I enjoy working with diverse communities and my research interests focus on health disparities, community health needs assessment, school health education, program monitoring and evaluation, and improving care processes and outcomes. I have accepted the position of graduate research assistant to begin immediately and am excited to join the team!

Monday, January 4, 2016

What's Cookin' at Bruce Vento?

By: Judy Myers

Lotus root.
Imagine moving to a new country and visiting the market for groceries — nearly everything looks unfamiliar. What is opo squash or lotus root and how does one use either of these to cook for children more accustomed to macaroni and cheese? This is often the challenge for immigrant families, especially when they depend largely on food pantries or boxes of food from organizations such as Second Harvest Heartland.

So we held a team meeting with Bruce Vento social workers Marisa Biolo and Michael Carlson, school principal Scott Masini, assistant principal Fhonda Hicks, family liaison coordinator Cyndy McRae, U of M Extension educators Jennifer Ogren and Shirley Vang, and Rebecca Mino from Second Harvest.

We discussed how sometimes families either do not pick up available food boxes or throw away portions of the box because they do not know how to use the contents. To address this, we developed a four-month plan to provide food tastings, cooking demonstrations, cooking classes, and colorful cards with pictures and preparation suggestions of common fruits and vegetables typically found at Cub Foods.
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