Chesnut’s Outdoor Classroom Ready for Alfresco Learning

2013 Chesnut Garden smallIf you haven’t been around back to the Chesnut Garden courtyard yet, you’ve got to check it out! Or, take a shortcut by watching this video made by local author and sustainable living activist Pattie Baker when she visited Chesnut Garden over the summer (but read on to see how we’ve expanded since).

Garden Leader Carissa Malone has kicked off the second year of Chesnut’s organic gardening program, which invites all classes to come out to plant, harvest and taste vegetables, fruits and herbs. At the end of last year we added a “How Did It Taste?” board (made from salvaged materials and old baking sheets) where students can record and observe each other’s experiences tasting the garden’s crops. If you’d like your children to visit, please encourage your teacher to schedule his/her class with Ms. Malone by emailing Teachers are also encouraged to visit the garden for self-guided class tours (garden map and garden-themed stories can be found in the Ladybug Mailbox).

This weekend a half-dozen parents put in the final big effort to complete the outdoor classroom meant to facilitate instruction in the garden. On the wall opposite the garden, PTA Clean & Beautiful Co-Chair Andy Hirst had recently mounted a mirror donated by parent Elizabeth Davis, where teachers can use dry erase markers to illustrate a lesson. After last year’s collection of tree stump donations from the Hixon and McEwen families, we were ready to get to work installing a mini amphitheater facing the mirror “chalkboard.”

Whether to study science, math, language arts, history or just to get some fresh air while they learn, we hope Chesnut students will all have an opportunity to enjoy this new facility. If you like the idea, please encourage your child’s teacher to utilize the outdoor classroom, or to email us at for farm-to-school lesson plans which incorporate the garden into multidisciplinary, standards-based curriculum.

Gentle Warriors for the Environment

At our September Chesnut Changers after-school meeting, we celebrated our commitment to the environment by practicing yoga in the garden. We started by discussing, “what is yoga?” The students gave a variety of answers, like “chanting,” “meditating,” “stretching,” and “gymnastics.”

Sturdy Trees need a strong foundation to grow and bloom

One fourth grader said, “yoga is how adults trick you into exercising” —  which I loved. I told the students that there is no trick here, we ARE going to exercise! Then we began by acknowledging our breath. We discussed how our breath can help us in stressful, difficult or new situations.

Our first pose was Lotus Breath, where we made a lotus with our hands and grew our flower up to the sun. Another pose was Dark Seed Light (or Child’s pose). We bent over and became a seed. When our face is down, everything is dark. When we round our back we can see the light peeking through. We learned a short Sun Salutation and Wake Up Mountain pose. We then practiced Warrior 1 Up and talked about what it means to be a gentle warrior for the environment. We ended our practice with Tree pose, and discovered how to stay balanced by keeping our eyes on a fixed object (not easy to do in the garden, but challenges are good!) The students did an awesome job of growing their branches and swaying in the wind.

When we have balance in our life, we can spread our branches towards the light.

We ended our practice with a Namaste circle. We learned that “Namaste” means “the light in me, sees the light in you.” We said, “Namaste,” and passed around a glitter sky ball, which represents us sharing our light. I had an awesome time with all the students and look forward to our next class. We will have fun learning some Halloween-themed poses in the garden!


Jenny Bell

Scarecrows are taking a little savasana.

(Chesnut parent Jenny Bell, a certified Go Grounded Yoga Teacher, is the Chesnut Changers’ new Garden Yoga instructor)

How Can You Help Chesnut Practice Reusing?

PARENTS! You can earn charter credits while helping Chesnut families adhere to the first principle in the Chesnut Changers’ Pledge: “Reuse, Reduce, Recycle.”

HOW:  The PTA’s Used Uniform program helps families reuse school uniforms and also supports our families who have limited financial resources by providing a low-cost option for school uniforms.

WHAT:  The PTA Used Uniform program is currently on hold because we need a parent to run the program. The job involves keeping the used uniforms organized in the PTA closet, and hosting a “used uniform sale” at school events during the year, including Registration Day,  Family Night Dinner and Bingo Night. Can you help? If you would like to volunteer for this role, please email

What Will Chesnut’s New PTA Wellness Team Do?

The mission of Chesnut’s new PTA Wellness Team is to promote and encourage healthy habits for students, families, faculty and staff of Chesnut Charter Elementary School in support of DeKalb County’s Wellness Policy. We regard health as a state of physical, mental and emotional wellness that leads to greater success inside and out of the classroom.

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation suggests that an effective Wellness group have about a dozen participants, and Chesnut’s Wellness Team has more than 20, including our principal Ms. Veronica Williams, our school nurse, our health/PE coach, several teachers, our cafeteria manager and a dozen parents. Want to join us? Email

So what are we up to, and how can you get involved?

1. Ecology Club, Farm to School and Gardening programs report to PTA Wellness Team. Garden Leader Carissa Malone has already started hosting classes in the garden (more on that in a later blog post).

2. We are working with Coach Dykema to launch a pilot nutrition unit (one week of Farm to School-influenced nutrition lesson plans) for all PE classes, aiming for October surrounding Food Day.

3. We have reached out to parents requesting their support for “healthy celebrations” to get away from sugary snacks and drinks.

4. Fourth grade teacher Mr. Ian Shiverick is leading the implementation of the new Cougar Kudos program, which, in compliance with DeKalb County’s Wellness Policy, encourages teachers and staff to replace food rewards (i.e., candy, ice cream parties) with “kudos” that the children may earn for good behavior. Every two weeks, the leading class chooses a fun and healthy reward from a list we are compiling, such as free choice in P.E., Crazy Hat Day, etc. If you are willing to host a special craft or activity as an incentive for a winning class, please email your ideas to

5. We are talking with PTA event planners to implement healthy food and drink choice. If you want to see healthier foods at BINGO night, Family Dinner night, Valentine’s Family Celebration, etc., please volunteer to help staff these events by emailing

6. We have joined the Healthy Halls Wellness Program, developed by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. This research-based program promotes Strong4Life Healthy Habits ( to elementary school students, their parents and school staff. Next week our students will attend a curriculum-based, dynamic Healthy Halls theatrical performance, focusing on four healthy habits:

  • Make 1/2 your plate veggies and fruits
  • Be active for 60 minutes
  • Limit screen time to one hour
  • Drink more water and limit sugary drinks

7. We are polling parents to find out how we can improve Chesnut’s school lunch. If you haven’t yet, please take the 10-question survey (it’s really quick!) and weigh in:

8. We are brainstorming ways to encourage biking and walking to Chesnut, working with Safe Routes to School and Walk to School parent coordinators.

This group is excited about increasing opportunities for nutrition education, physical activity, emotional well-being and the encouragement of healthy habits for our community. If you have suggestions or want to get involved, please email

Dunwoody Nature Center Offers Fall Nature Clubs

If your child’s favorite part of attending monthly Chesnut Changer after-school ecology club meetings is getting outside and exploring nature, you might be interested in the Dunwoody Nature Center’s Fall Nature Clubs.

WHAT:  Small groups meet weekly in October and cover a variety of topics such as Georgia habitats, food chains, creek life, birding basics, fall foliage, and insects. Club members will learn by going on hikes, conducting experiments, playing games and participating in other environmental activities.

WHEN: K-2 meets Tuesdays, 3:00 – 4:30 pm; Grades 3-5 meets Thursdays 3:00 – 4:00 pm

WHERE: Dunwoody Nature Center, 5343 Roberts Drive, Dunwoody, GA 30338

COST: $30 members, $40 non-members

HOW:  Register here:

Chesnut Students Want Fresh Fruits and Veggies

Out of Chesnut Elementary’s 20 classes (pre-K – 5), the last two Farm to School (F2S) lunches — featuring watermelon in August and Cucumber in September — proved that we have many “Super Super Fresh Eaters.” These are classes that had 100% tasting rates:  all of the kids who brought or bought the food of the month tried it. Be on the lookout for these class names on our new Farm to School bulletin board, coming soon to a wall in our cafeteria.

Chesnut Changers happily distributed “Go Green” hand stamps to any classmate who tasted the food of the month and  — looking at the statistics they collected for the Watermelon and Cucumber marketing reports — the majority of kids went back to class sporting a hand-stamp.

While the watermelon was clearly a favorite — with 14 classes earning Super Super Fresh Eater standing — another significant improvement was in parent participation. More than 40 students either brought watermelon from home or money to purchase the Farm to School item à-la-carte (costs $.75).

Though the cucumbers,  which were served as part of a tomato cucumber salad earlier this week, weren’t as popular as their cousin, tasting rates were overall higher than the previous month. The majority of students who had cucumbers for lunch took a taste, with only two classes having less than 80% tasting rates.

Some of the children are very serious about this F2S promotion, wanting to know if they have to clean their plate to get a hand-stamp, including drinking the salad dressing from the bottom of the cucumber salad cup. One first grader commented, “I think that these cucumbers are probably famous.”

We stress that they are famous in a way. They are very nutritious because they ripen on the plant and they protect the environment by not having been shipped cross-country. Yes!

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Slow Food Expert To Speak at GPC-Dunwoody

ImageWhat is “slow food,” and why is it important to our health? Find out Thursday, Sept. 20, at 11:30 a.m. when Le Cordon Bleu chef Amy Ponzoli, faculty advisor for Atlanta’s chapter of Slow Food, will speak at the Georgia Perimeter College Dunwoody Campus auditorium. Ponzoli will discuss the disappearance of our local food traditions and changing food ethics in the 21st century. The event will be followed by a question and answer session. 

Ponzoli’s talk is part of the Sarah Larson Humanities Lecture Series, and is supported by the Georgia Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities and through appropriations from the Georgia General Assembly.

The event is free and open to the public. The Dunwoody Campus auditorium is located in Building C. 
Call 770-274-5496 for information. Parking is available.