Is There A Chesnut Changer in the Schoolhouse?

IMG_0965IMG_0963Yes, now there are more than 400 of us!

With the recent win of a Captain Planet Foundation Project Learning Garden Grant, Chesnut has committed to a three-year program that will ultimately enable all faculty to teach math, social studies, science and language arts standards via outdoor lessons with a focus on environmentalism. As a result, we have disbanded our monthly after-school Ecology Club, and will instead focus our efforts on including all Chesnut students in such programs throughout the school year.

IMG_0969In a sense, the fourth and fifth grader Chesnut Changers’ wish came true — we did develop a “secret door to the garden” — by availing ourselves of Captain Planet’s resources to help build a school-wide culture around environmental stewardship. Captain Planet provides instructional materials including a mobile cooking cart, standards-based curriculum and faculty training, as well as Food Corps volunteers as classroom facilitators.

In addition to having five School Master Gardeners on staff, this month Chesnut will also have six Project Learning Garden trainees, including fifth grade teachers Ms. Bock and Ms. Wessels, fourth grade teachers Ms. Denson and Ms. Onorato, first grade teacher Ms. Skoog and school counselor Ms. Sule. More to come on what they bring back to Chesnut from their training. In the meanwhile, we will continue to share news of the latest Chesnut Changer happenings.

Closing out the last year of Ecology Club by cooking up a batch of recycled crayons in leaf shapes!

“I Ate A Rainbow and Now I Feel So Strong, I Could Pick Up the School!”

2013-12 Chesnut Rainbow SuperKid copyRight before winter break, Chesnut students arriving at the gym for P.E. were greeted by members of Chesnut’s Wellness Team. Coach Lonny Dykema, alongside PTC Wellness Team parents Jo Chin, Angela Renals and Jessica Spencer, launched Chesnut’s second series of Farm to School nutrition lessons. After reviewing how this lesson — “Tasting a Rainbow of Plants” — had gone the previous year, the group had altered some of the activities to increase student participation and applied learning opportunities.

The goal was for students to be able to:

  • Identify the six plant parts and understand that all produce we eat is a plant part
  • Understand the value of eating many colors of fruits and veggies every day
  • Taste fruits and vegetables of various colors
  • Make suggestions as to how to add color to their plates.

To meet these objectives and the correlating National Health Education Standards, Coach’s team devised a lesson plan with three main activities:

Roots, stems, leaves, flowers, fruits and seeds

1. “What’s in Your Grocery Bag?” – Plant Part Identification Game: Students split into groups, each with a poster depicting the 6 plant parts (root, stem, leaf, flower, fruit, seed) and a grocery bag with a variety of fresh produce that the children were to place in the correct places on their posters. The kids dove in, passed their bags around, and largely correctly labeled their items. The challenges were at times the coconut (seed), garbanzo bean (seed) and asparagus (stem AND flower).

Many kids asked for more

2. “Tasting a Rainbow:”  Students each received a mini rainbow to sample: one snap pea (green), olive (blue/purple), chickpea (white/tan), bell pepper (yellow), pear slice (red) and kumquat (orange). We hunted for each by color, tasted, then challenged the students to name the food. Just as the slightly exotic pomegranate was a favorite last year (and requested again this year), the unknown kumquat met with rave reviews this year. Part of the fun in these lessons is encouraging the kids to be open to trying new foods and to developing a taste for them. We also discuss why we left the skin on their pears, and why we eat the kumquat’s peel:  because the color (in the skin) tells us where many of the nutrients are.

rainbow of produce3. “Turn This Plate from Simple to Super:”  Slides depicted various typical kids’ meals (bowl of cereal, mac n cheese, cheese pizza, hamburger and fries, school lunch with chicken fingers and fries) alongside a rainbow of whole fruits and vegetables. We asked the kids to suggest how they could add more color to their meal with colorful whole foods. We had so many hands in the air with suggestions, we had to take 3 or 4 for each meal. When items like ketchup, Fruit Loops or pepperoni were suggested, we had an opportunity to compare colorful whole foods to colorful processed, or changed foods, and think about which gives our body more fuel (“super powers”).

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Ecology and Farm to School (F2S) Lessons Now Incorporated into Science Curriculum for All Chesnut Kindergarteners

f2sThanks to a record after-school Ecology Club enrollment from our kindergarten families, and the initiative of our kindergarten teacher Master School Gardeners in Training — Ms. Hobgood and Mr. Chicoine — the kindergarten science curriculum will now feature hands-on Ecology and Farm to School lessons!

Ms. Hobgood and Mr. Chicoine have secured Ms. Williams’ support in launching these new units for all four kindergarten classes. As a result, instead of staying after school for a monthly meeting, kindergarteners now experience ecology/Farm to School fundamentals built into their daily science lessons.

Lessons throughout October include:

– Fruits and Vegetables:  Compare/contrast various fruits and vegetables; play “What Veggie Am I?” game

– Worms Help the Earth:  Support science standard on plants, using the garden to identify compost critters; Master School Gardener Christen Ramo (former Chesnut teacher and mom of a current Chesnut kindergartener) to guest teach worm unit

– Sheltering Animals:  Build a “Critter Garden” in Chesnut’s backyard using painted rocks from first Ecology Club meeting; create rock garden with hiding and burrowing places

Much thanks to Ms. Hobgood, Mr. Chicoine and Principal Williams for launching yet another creative approach to learning at Chesnut Charter!

Master School Gardeners in Training, Ginna Hobgood (K), Leah Little (2nd), Mark Chicoine (K), and Betty Sule (Counselor) present their plan for Chesnut

Master School Gardeners in Training, Ginna Hobgood (K), Leah Little (2nd), Mark Chicoine (K), and Betty Sule (Counselor) present their plan for Chesnut


Chesnut Wins Gardening Grant Just in Time to Fund 3rd Graders’ Presidential Campaign

Anne Marie Walkup, Erika Peltier and Nakailey Jackson for Chesnut President!

These third grade Chesnut Changers want “a bigger garden so the lunch ladies will have fresher food to cook for the kids.” And they are not afraid to get their hands dirty planting it! 2013 F2S if I were pres

Kitchen Gardeners International to the rescue! Today they listed Chesnut Garden as one of their Sow It Forward full grant winners. They must agree with these young ladies that this program is worthy of presidential attention, because they selected Chesnut as one of 50 winners out of 925 applicants from 48 states and 11 countries.

The grant includes $300 cash, $200 garden supply gift card, $55 worth of seeds, a book and one-year subscription to KGI Garden Planner. Thank you KGI!

We plan to use the money to fulfill the wish of fifth grade teacher Timika Howard, who thought of using geometrically shaped raised beds as math teaching tools for area and division. Whether or not they are elected to School President, Ms. Peltier, Ms. Walkup, and Ms. Jackson WILL soon have a bigger Chesnut Garden, where as fifth graders, they will decide what to grow in their new beds. Though they won’t make it into the lunchroom because of county regulations, their crops could certainly become another math lesson, as the students measure quantities in a recipe, for a delicious snack they grew themselves!

Super Kids Taste a Rainbow of Plants

Green foods give Super Kid super powers!

Green foods give Super Kid super powers!

What is about to be reported here deserves a moment of reflection. Last year, when the new Ecology Club/Gardening parent sponsors proposed integrating Farm to School curriculum into the school-day to include all Chesnut students, we certainly thought we were discussing a date far off in the future. Well, this week, a little more than one year later, that date has come to pass!

The credit for this quick adoption goes to Chesnut’s P.E. Coach Lonny Dykema, who readily joined the new Wellness Team when it was created earlier this year to encourage Chesnut’s compliance with DeKalb’s Wellness Policy. When he suggested to parents that he could host Wellness Team guest speakers for a special nutrition/health unit during a week of P.E. classes, Wellness Team Co-Chairs Jessica Falk-Spencer and Angela Renals jumped at the opportunity to reach every student at Chesnut.

Our intent was to apply Farm to School concepts to nutrition education, by helping students see their foods as plants they themselves might grow, whose health benefits can be deciphered by color, empowering them to make healthy choices. After researching National Health Education Standards and creative Farm to School lesson plans from other states, we crafted this “Tasting a Rainbow of Plants” lesson plan. It is divided into two major components: 1. Six Plant Parts We Eat guessing game where students pick a whole food out of a bag and try to name it and identify it as one or several plant parts; 2. Tasting a Rainbow of Plants where students have the opportunity to taste one fruit and vegetable each from 5 color groups while we examine how each color gives them “super powers.”

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So how did it go? Over three days, Coach Dykema and Wellness Team parents Angela Renals, Jessica Falk-Spencer and Jo Chin hosted 475 Chesnut students during their P.E. class.

The mustard greens (which were often pulled out of the bag to a chorus of “WHOA!”), artichoke, yuca and cauliflower frequently stumped our guessers as to what they were and which plant part. One fifth grader had trouble identifying a stalk of celery, which Coach Dykema turned into a lesson, pointing out that many of us didn’t know what the mustard greens were — it all depends on what’s normal in your family. He explained that that is why we keep our comments to ourselves during the tasting, to respect each other’s differences of opinion and experience.

Most children were open to trying something new, and required gentle reminders to keep their reactions in their minds, because they were often surprised by the tastes in their cups: grape, purple cabbage, green bean, Granny smith apple, yellow bell pepper, persimmon, jicama, Asian pear, red kidney bean and pomegranate seed.

Parent Jo Chin encouraged children to close their eyes and experience the texture of the food on their tongue, offering descriptive words for what they might be experiencing. Ms. Chin was a driving force behind the success of this program and a perfect fit for the team, as she loves cooking and eating delicious food! She opened her home and vast cooking supplies to prep 5,000 pieces of tasting samples, carted the foods back and forth each day to fill the muffin cups, and hosted the tasting for each class.

Our thanks go out to her, Coach Dykema, music teacher Ms. Hunter and Ms. Rafferty for keeping everything running smoothly. Also especially to Principal Ms. Williams and Assistant Principal Mr. McFarlane for approving this program and demonstrating their support by literally sitting down with the children to taste right alongside them. And most importantly, to Chesnut’s students, for participating with enthusiasm. They certainly had their favorites, about which we polled them at each class’ end, to hear their suggestions as to what we should grow in our school garden. Here’s their rankings:

1. Pomegranate, 2. Apples, 3. Asian Pear, 4. Grapes, 5. Persimmon, 6. Red Kidney Beans, 7. Yellow Bell Pepper, 8. Jicama, 9. Onions, 10. Watermelon, 11. Carrots, 12. Cabbage.

Through the cafeteria staff’s participation on Wellness Team, we have cooperated to display healthy eating messages on their cafeteria bulletin board. The new “SuperKids Love Colorful Foods” board outside the cafeteria line is designed to extend this week’s Farm to School nutrition lessons, by featuring a different color produce every 6 weeks, with examples of fruits and vegetables (labeled as plant parts), and demonstrating which nutrients (“Superfuel”) are giving Super Kid super powers. In a word, it’s all super.

2012-11 superkid bb rainborw

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

Another Post Just For Teachers!

On Wednesday, October 26, Dekalb County students will enjoy locally-grown Granny Smith Apples in the school cafeteria as part of DCSS’ commitment to the Farm to School Program and the local food movement.

For kindergarten teachers interested in using this event to further learning in the classroom, an online kindergarten lesson plan aligned to nine different GPS standards is available through the Decatur Farm To School website.

This website is also a great resource for GPS aligned lesson plans for other grades.