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Fourth graders across Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District will soon be treated to an experience beyond their wildest dreams when they get to play in the dirt as part of a recent initiative to encourage healthy eating habits and exercise among young students.

Dubbed the GROW program, the new measure is a result of a partnership with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service to encourage healthy eating habits and exercise among young people through the Learn, Grow, Eat and Go! curriculum project of the International Junior Master Gardener Program.

“We are proud to provide our students authentic learning experiences in gardening and nutrition with our new GROW program while supporting both STEM and healthy lifestyles,” said Superintendent Dr. Art Cavazos. “Within ten weeks fourth-grade students at HCISD will be harvesting vegetables grown in their own garden and with that, gain a new understanding and appreciation for the food they eat. This is all thanks to our new partnership with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and the Learn, Grow, Eat and Go! curriculum.”

The 10-week program will teach students about gardening, nutrition, physical activity, and how to prepare nutritious recipes all while supporting academic standards in science and writing.

“We have partnered with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension as we embark on the GROW program for our fourth graders,” said Special Projects and Grants Specialist Jessica Hruska. “The AgriLife Extension provided us the curriculum and training from a grant that they are working with.”

Though the program may be new to the district, Bowie Elementary has been gardening for many years.

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“We have established a lot of the concepts from the Learn, Grow, Eat and Go! curriculum over the ten years we’ve been gardening. Now with the full-scale implementation we are adding the physical education component into the mix,” said Physical Education Teacher Graciela Bouls. “What students learn in P.E. will complement and offer another take on what they are learning in the garden.”

Each week, teachers will deliver lessons that cover topics like plant needs, nutrients, food groups, staple crops across cultures, and portion sizes as well as incorporate the physical education component of the curriculum. Understanding of the concepts learned will be enriched through student garden journals in the classroom.

With the support and guidance of the AgriLife Extension Service, each fourth-grade class will be responsible for planting, growing and harvesting a garden at their campus to complete the curriculum.

Bouls said that the hands-on learning experience offered by the program will be a source of pride for the students as they begin to see the progress of their garden and see the culmination of their efforts with that first harvest.

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Christopher Heiskell, a student at Bowie, reveals his favorite part of participating in the gardening program.

“The best part about growing food is seeing it grow, and seeing the process, feeding it with water, and caring for it,” he said.

He added that another perk of the program is that students get to sample the food grown in the garden.

“One year, one of our classes grew pumpkins,” Heiskell said. “We made empanadas and roasted pumpkin seeds out of them.”

Nutrient-rich vegetables to be cultivated as part of the program include carrots, lettuce, broccoli, potatoes, Swiss chard, bell pepper, cauliflower, spinach, Bok Choy, cherry tomatoes, sugar snap peas, and squash.

“Our garden here at Bowie has prompted our students’ families to grow their own gardens at home,” said Bouls. “That tells me that what we are doing here is truly making a difference, so I’m very excited for the impact this program will have as the initiative goes full-scale throughout our district.”

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