CT FANs IM is supported by a five-year $2.5 million grant from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and is an offshoot of the original 4-H FANS program, which also focused on fitness and nutrition for school-aged children and their families.
“We’re bridging community connections with Extension, by serving youth and families in under-served areas,” says Umekia Taylor, associate educator and project director. “With the startling statistics on obesity in our country, I find it exciting to promote healthy lifestyles by combining nutrition and fitness in programs that engage our youth.”
Amy Walker, third grade teacher at W.B. Sweeney Elementary School in Willimantic, serves as adult leader for the school’s new 4-H Club. Funded through CT FANs IM 4-H STEM grant, the program started last winter with the planning and construction of six raised bed gardens.
“This school garden has been a wonderful opportunity to connect young, urban children with healthy, local produce,” says Marc Cournoyer, UConn Extension 4-H Youth Development Program Coordinator. “These kids are very excited to not only learn where some of their food comes from, but they also get to know the pride of growing, harvesting and eating food that was created by their own hands.”
Desiree Parciak, Sweeney Before and After School Program coordinator, worked with the CT FANs IM 4-H STEM staff to help establish the club. Students from her program were given the opportunity to join the club. In addition to Walker, the team includes Extension Public Service Specialist Kelly Caisse and CT FANs IM 4-H STEM teen mentor Mackenzie Hill, a former Sweeney student.
Linda Castro, Connecticut Fitness and Nutrition Clubs IM 4-H STEM program administrator, assisted the team with several training sessions. “It was very interesting because we did some great activities that really identified our unique personality traits and showed how different we work,” Walker says. “I think that is what makes the team so successful.”
Last spring, eighteen students planted the gardens that by early summer were overflowing with of tomatoes, corn, peppers, cucumbers, string beans, dill, basil and strawberries.
The team planned a summer reading night, but due to construction at Sweeney, the event was held during the afternoon at Memorial Park. The gardens were harvested before the event. Children heard a story about gardening while parents watched a food demonstration. Families left with a healthy recipe and an armful of vegetables.
“We had adorable chef hats for the children, which they loved,” says Walker. “And story time was a hit. Families from the school attended as well as a few other residents from town. It was a wonderful feeling to share the vegetables. There was enough for all the children and everyone went away happy.”
With the gardens still brimming with produce, Walker plans to continue harvesting as the students return to school. She hopes to secure additional funding to continue the program, expand the gardens and include educational sessions on nutrition and fitness.
“We had parents from the PTO notice how excited the kids were with the program,” Walker says. “Every administrator wants parents involved in their kids’ school, but it’s difficult for many parents in this district, where so many work multiple jobs to support their families. My goal is to encourage the students to eat healthier through gardening, while increasing parent involvement at the school. That’s the big thing for me, to see parents interested in learning with their kids and sharing the gardening process.”
Planning for the Regan Elementary School garden in Waterbury began during the winter of 2015, under the direction of technology/library teacher, Kimberly Williams. The cold frames and raised beds arrived in spring, along with seeds and worms for the worm factory. Students planted carrots, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, watermelon, pumpkins, lettuce, basil, beets, spinach, snapdragons, and cosmos. The first family harvest was held in July, followed by summer maintenance and fall clean up. A fall planting of broccoli rabe, lettuce, and carrots went in during October. The school club is in the works. Club recruiting began with Family Night events.
“Our parents have been very enthusiastic about the program and have enjoyed the Family Nights that we’ve held,” Williams says. “Students and families are excited to be part of the program. Everyone is looking forward to playing fitness games, getting into the garden and making healthy choices. Our staff is excited to see the science learning in our club translate to the classroom, and enable our students to make connections in their learning that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.”
In March, two New Haven schools, Hill Central Music Academy and West Rock STREAM Academy, will begin a spring CT FANs IM 4-H STEM program.
Lindsey is the new Program Assistant for the Connecticut Fitness and Nutrition Clubs In Motion. Lindsey is a recent graduate of the University of St. Joseph’s in West Hartford with a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics. Lindsey is also pursuing a certification as a personal trainer from National Academy of Sports Medicine. She has worked with community outreach including SNAP-ED, Boys and Girls Clubs, and telephonic health coaching. Lindsey brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to our team.
North Haven—UConn Extension’s New Haven County Extension Center invites the public to a Fall Open House on Thursday, September 15, 2016 from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at 305 Skiff Street, North Haven.
The New Haven County Extension Resource Council, Inc. (NHCERC, Inc.), a volunteer organization supporting the educational outreach programs based in this center, is hosting this event. Faculty, staff, and volunteers will be available to discuss Extension outreach programs offered via this Extension Center. Brief spotlight presentations will be made on “4-H STEM Activities to Do with Kids”, “Your Garden in Fall” and “How we sometimes get sick from the food we eat”. Educational displays and materials will also on hand. At 5:45 pm there will be a very brief Annual NHCERC, Inc. Meeting followed by The Extension Volunteer Recognition Ceremony. The public is welcome to attend all or any portion of this event. Light refreshments will be available. Call 203. 407. 3160 for more information. RSVPs are appreciated.
The New Haven County Extension Center, one of eight county-based UConn Extension Centers, provides a wide variety of educational outreach programs for families and individuals, youth, staff, farmers, professionals, businesses, and social service and public agencies, among others, in New Haven County and beyond. UConn Extension faculty and staff, based in the New Haven County facility, work in fields such as 4-H youth development, food safety, master gardening, financial literacy, Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), and Connecticut Fitness and Nutrition Clubs In Motion (CT FANs IM) and coastal storm preparedness. For more information, visit http://www.extension.uconn.edu/extension-centers/newHaven.php.
UConn Extension connects the power of UConn research to local issues by offering practical, science-based answers to complex problems. UConn Extension enhances small businesses, the economic and physical well-being of families and offers opportunities to improve the decision-making capacity of community leaders. Extension provides scientific knowledge and expertise to the public in areas such as: economic viability, business and industry, family and community development, agriculture and natural resources. UConn Extension brings research to real life.
UConn is an equal opportunity employer and program provider.