After an unusually snowy October, it is a pleasure to reflect back to a perfectly warm sunny day in late May when Foundation staff was invited to visit La Crosse to experience a GROW garden open house and see the Foundation-supported ACEs Garden Classes in action.
GROW works with schools throughout La Crosse County in community and school gardens speaking to classes about where food comes from, the benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables and spending time outside. Through their work, they began to notice the emotional impact of being in the garden on children participating in their programing.
At the same time, awareness was increasing in the La Crosse community about the powerful repercussions of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on long-term health outcomes. Embracing the strategies of trauma-informed care and building resiliency, GROW applied for and was granted funding from the Foundation to develop garden classroom curriculum designed to reduce and mitigate the effects of ACEs.
The garden visited by Foundation staff is across from Hamilton Elementary School’s playground. Already in May, herbs and greens were sprouting and other raised beds were prepped for planting. Young fruit trees were leafing and pollinator habitats were abuzz. A teacher and class gathered around a table as Jaime O’Neil from GROW greeted them and asked students to take a moment to think about how they were feeling right then. When they were ready, they could show her, thumbs up, thumbs down, thumbs somewhere in between.
Across the street, recess was happening, so it was a time of day when it could be challenging to be calm and listen. Here in the garden though, the kids were quietly assessing their own emotional temperature. O’Neil passed around spinach from one of the school gardens. Each child held a piece and thought about the color, the feeling, the smell and finally, the taste. The children did this with a few other foods that were then put together into a smoothie they could drink. Subtly, but deliberately, lessons were being imparted to the children on empathy, responsibility, concern and mindfulness. Children learned to find a spot where they could pay attention to what they were hearing and smelling and to their breathing. After the lesson, the children were once again asked to show by way of thumb, how they were feeling and it was thumbs up all around!
During the past school year, 915 La Crosse County school children from 51 different classrooms participated in garden mindfulness classes. Of the teachers participating, 90% reported that the garden lessons gave them additional ideas to promote emotional and mental health and build resiliency with their students. Foundation supported grants like this offer ways for communities to come together and provide children with tools that will serve them throughout their lives despite the many challenges they may face.
The Foundation’s Grant Committee and Board take very seriously their charge of supporting programs that will most effectively bring to life our mission of advancing the health of the people of Wisconsin. To learn more about our Grant Program, grant awards and how you can get involved, visit our website, email Elizabeth Ringle or call her at 608.442.3789.