SUNY Oneonta recently collaborated with Riverside Elementary School in Oneonta on a new service learning partnership with the goal of getting children excited about growing their own food. Syosset High School graduate and current Oneonta student Kayla Cohen was an active participant in the program Harvest Share Buddies since taking a course that offered the opportunity to her.
“I was lucky enough to be involved in SUNY Oneonta’s Harvest Share Buddies service learning partnership,” said Cohen. “This was an opportunity to visit a local elementary school and teach the students about food, society and the environment.”
Oneonta began the program with funding from a $3,976 grant from NobleCause, acquired through the school’s Center for Social Responsibility and Community. Assistant professor of biology Sean Robison built 12 vegetable grow boxes and installed them in each of Riverside’s K-5 classrooms in September.
Roughly 70 Oneonta students participated in the program, forming “box buddy” teams that visited their assigned classrooms multiple times to help plant the boxes and teach lessons about food, society and the environment.
“I would visit the school every other week and teach a 30-minute lesson about a certain topic, some including compositing, ecological footprint, local versus nonlocal foods, mono-cropping and many other food/agriculture issues we are facing today,” Cohen said. “Additionally, we planted radishes and lettuce in vegetable growing boxes in the classroom.”
Cohen became interested in the program due to her background as a dietetics major. Her passion for nutrition and health and her belief in the significance of teaching children about what they are eating attracted her to the program and its objective.
“Being a dietetics major, I find it extremely important to teach children at a young age about food,” she said. “Many children see food as just something they are eating from a package. They fail to see how crucially their food choices impact their growth, development and the environment they are living in. Additionally, they don’t see that food doesn’t only come from a package but can be grown and they have complete control over what they put in their bodies.”
Cohen also commented on the success of the program and what she was able to achieve through her participation.
“I was able to educate a class of fifth-graders and open their eyes about their food sources,” she said. “The students loved the lessons and watching their plants grow throughout the semester. It was so exciting when the students would share with me what they did in their personal lives to better their health and ecological footprint.”
Cohen noted that both the staff and students at Riverside Elementary School were extremely welcoming to Oneonta students and expressed excitement at having them there.
“The principal was on board with the program right away and was extremely enthusiastic about Oneonta students visiting,” she said.
The children seemed to pick up on the enthusiasm of both the school’s principal and the Oneonta students who were involved in the program. Not only were they receptive to the program, but they were excited about learning from the Oneonta students.
“The children were so excited each time we visited and would beg us to not leave,” Cohen said. “They learned so much throughout the semester and taught me as well. They taught me how to be a valuable educator and ways to make nutrition and the environment a fun topic.”
The Harvest Buddies service learning partnership provided elementary school students with an opportunity to learn about the significance of food, the environment, and how their decisions regarding these topics impact not only themselves, but society. Cohen, and the other Oneonta students who helped to educate these students, provided them an insight into important health and environmental knowledge at a young age that will surely influence them to make positive health-related decisions in the future.
“This was an amazing experience that I would do again if I could,” Cohen said. “I was so inspired by working with young children that I decided to do a study abroad program in Peru this summer. I am so excited to continue educating and helping young people around the world.”