Can students discover healthy eating while learning about ancient Egypt or crafting a witty opinion piece? Bronx Health REACH proves that teachers can absolutely integrate nutrition education into core curriculum by using one simple tool — DESIGN for Teachers. Last fall, four third grade lead teachers received a train the trainer session in December 2017 in the DESIGN for Teachers model with the intention of training and implementing four nutrition education lessons into core curriculum across all third grade classrooms.
DESIGN for Teachers is a model, developed by Marissa Burgermaster, PhD, MAEd, Pamela Koch, EdD, RD, and Isobel Contento, PhD. This model shows teachers how to integrate nutrition and food literacy into lessons that will engage students in the classroom and fuel children's motivation to eat healthier and live a more active lifestyle.
Through calling for a grade-wide commitment to implement four lessons integrating nutrition education and core curriculum, teachers in all four participating schools found their students looking forward to learning and genuinely disappointed if they missed a class. Teachers said the experience is something that they would definitely replicate next year because it wasn’t difficult to implement.
“There wasn’t much changed from the original curriculum, we were just using different resources and activities to implement the lesson,” said Alvin Lisojo, a third grade teacher at PS69 Journey Prep.
More than 80 percent of teachers completed all four lessons with the guidance and support of their grade lead teacher. The keys to grade leaders’ success was 1) a commitment from all third grade teachers to be active participants in the project, 2) implementing an effective professional development training on DESIGN for Teachers model targeted to their fellow teachers and creating four lessons that all four or five third grade teachers could easily implement, and 3) following up with each teacher to ensure all four lessons were implemented.
What surprised and inspired the teachers was how much excitement the lessons ignited in their students. Suddenly, students were talking about healthy eating among themselves. After Ms. Dina Zapatta, a third grade teacher at PS114 began teaching the nutrition education lessons, students would enter class boasting that they brought a healthy snack today or that they didn’t bring any red or blue flavored sodas or sports drinks, what Dina refers to as “red or blue death juice.” Allison Palmer, a third grade teacher at PS6, reported that having her students take a pledge as a class drive the students to bring healthier snacks and bring water bottles to class and encourage their classmates to do likewise. Dina noticed an increase in students drinking more milk and eating more yogurt after her class took a healthy eating pledge.
In each school, all the third grade teachers worked as a team to choose which core curriculum lessons would be integrated into nutrition education lessons – each school truly making the project their own. At PS69, Alvin integrated a discussion about how to make healthier choices into a lesson about Egypt. The class ate Egyptian food and discussed how they could eat the food they love and be healthy by using portion control and making healthier versions of traditional recipes. Parents praised Alvin for offering these new lessons. They reported that their children were requesting to make healthier versions of their family’s favorite dishes at home as well as inspiring them to give them healthier snacks.
“The kids were having great discussions about food and what their families ate at home,” said Alvin. “Many of the students became very animated and excited about this topic, especially those who are English as Second Language students. This topic really brought them out of their shells.”
Dina’s third grade teachers chose to focus on the MyPlate model. She asked her students to illustrate what they ate the night before. Then, she posted the pictures around the room and encouraged the students to walk around the room and compare their meals and those of their fellow students to the MyPlate model. The most eye opening part of the exercise was seeing the challenges families face in accessing healthy, affordable food.
The teachers’ biggest challenge was finding grade-appropriate reading passages to teach nutrition education. In response, Bronx Health REACH is working with Teacher’s College to provide a solution for teachers. Despite these challenges, all four groups will continue to use the four nutrition education lessons with next year’s third grade class.
A big thank you to the third grade teachers who took the lead on this project in their schools: Jennifer Large (PS1X The Courtlandt School), Alvin Lisojo (PS69 The Journey Prep School), Allison Palmer (PS6 West Farm School), and Dina Zapatta (PS114 Luis Lorrens Torres School).