The 2014 Love Your School project launched in January and will run through March. It builds on a pilot program first introduced by the city in 2011.
“This service project is one of the first interdisciplinary projects adopted by our college and is a collaboration that reflects UALR’s mission. We are pleased to be a part of this initiative,” said UALR College of Education and Health Professions (CEHP) Dean Ann Bain.
The project’s goals are to increase knowledge and habits of healthy living in Title I schools through an integrated partnership among key community groups. The focus is on overcoming the childhood obesity epidemic by providing a variety of complementary, evidence-based initiatives programming to engage elementary students and their families.
The Little Rock mayor’s office, in June 2014, approached UALR to partner in delivering the nutrition curriculum component in seven Little Rock School District public elementary schools across kindergarten through fifth grades to increase student understanding about the importance of making healthy food choices and daily physical activity.
The seven LRSD elementary schools rank among the highest in the Little Rock School District in obesity rates. Prior to beginning the program, elementary-age participants were pre-tested about their nutrition knowledge and will complete a measurement at the end of the project.
Results from the pilot years of the program showed a 25 percent decrease in student Body Mass Index scores, an average increase of 25 percent in Math and Literacy scores on the Augmented Benchmark Exam, and a 38 percent increase in parents cooking at home after taking the Cooking Matters courses (with a 52 percent increase in number of vegetables eaten).
Faculty and student volunteers from the college have led the adaptation and implementation of the nutrition curriculum, called “K-5 Grow, Eat, Thrive: Growing Gardens for Health.”
UALR professors adapted the year-long curriculum to a six-lesson framework and then trained students how to teach it at different grade levels. UALR Professors Bennie Prince and Jennifer Hune modified the elementary curriculum to reflect instructional best practices.
Students and faculty from four departments, including Health, Human Performance and Sport Management; Nursing; Teacher Education; and Social Work, are involved. UALR Community Connection Center officials are also actively working on the project.
Dr. Bronwyn MacFarlane, CEHP interim associate dean, applauded the number of faculty and student volunteers who stepped up to deliver the nutrition curriculum.
MacFarlane said over 200 student volunteers led by their professors are delivering the nutrition curriculum. The nature of the project requires careful planning with many committed team members, she said.
“And as a result, the members of our college are making an important difference in our community,” MacFarlane added.
In addition, UALR students see how poor eating habits early in life contributes to health problems later, according to College of Nursing Professor Cindy Gilbert, and provides an ideal opportunity for students to give back and “see service in action.”
“I really enjoyed myself, so much so that I wanted to do another class today. I was nervous initially, but once I got started it was so much fun,” said Keonna Williams, a UALR student in the Middle Childhood Education program.
The UALR Community Connection Center and the Little Rock mayor’s office helped fund matching T-shirts for UALR participants to wear while volunteering in the schools.
The T-shirts, which read “UALR Loves Your School!,” help elementary students to visually recognize their classroom university visitors and the focus on the nutrition goals of the project.
Members of AmeriCorps-GardenCorps and AmeriCorps NCCC Members, based at each school building, also provide important contributions in supporting the school-based project with food preparation, set-up, participation and distribution of all classroom logistical needs, nutrition instruction and clean-up.
The two students are Sarah Moore and Mi’chele Cone. The student who is alone is Jessica Bell.