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Two Sequoia Lehi Charter School first graders take a break while tending to a community garden.
Two Sequoia Lehi Charter School first graders take a break while tending to a community garden.

A focus on wellness is the recipe for success at one charter school

Posted On: 2017-05-09 04:06 PM
From AZCentral.com...


By Kelsey Butler, Edkey Inc.

At Sequoia Lehi Charter School, the kids are actually excited to eat their vegetables—no small feat for notoriously picky students ranging from Kindergarten to 6th grade.

And that's because students at the EdKey charter school in Mesa, Arizona, have a hand in growing fresh produce from seeds in their very own community garden.

"If you know kids, they're usually not excited to eat broccoli," Principal Matthew Metcalf said. But after a recent harvest of the school's on-campus community garden, students were anxious to participate in a drawing to bring home their healthy haul, which ranged from cauliflower to broccoli to carrots.

"They were so ecstatic to show they had participated and what they'd done," he said.

One Sequoia Lehi parent, Nicole Adams, said daughters Mattison, 8, and Preslie, 6, have loved every step of the gardening process. Mattison was even bummed she didn't get some veggies to bring home during the last drawing. Preslie did, however, so the family was able to enjoy cooking them up for a delicious and fresh meal.

"As far as the garden goes, my girls will ask me ‘Mom can we please stay after and garden?'" she said. "My girls are just ecstatic about it. When they had a raffle drawing to see who could take home the vegetables…it was special [that they were able to bring some home] because it was something that they had made and worked on."

The garden was originally on campus, has now expanded to another 250 square-foot plot at a neighbor's property, where the kindly owner allows students to enjoy a second educational garden space.. The Kindergarten students still plant at the garden on campus, while the older children walk over to the neighbor's plot regularly to tend to their planted vegetables and flowers.

Joan Bradley, the 1st grade teacher at Sequoia Lehi who is in charge of the garden, said the process not only teaches the kids about where food comes from, but also applicable gardening skills.

"I love it because the kids get to see from the seed to harvesting," she said. Last year, her class planted carrots and tended to them until they were harvested, brought them into class and ate them as a snack—all as a lesson on food freshness and healthy eating. Bradley made sure to remind them of all the work that went into the process: "Three or four months is a long time for children that age."

Bradley added, "It was a whole science project rolled into one."

When asked about the school's emphasis on wellness, Metcalf said, "It is really one of the focuses of the school."

Part of what makes the school such a gem is not only what happens when students are hitting the books, but also what happens outside the classroom, including its community garden, the principal noted.

"Quite frankly, they're not going to remember what they learned in their 4th grade textbook," Metcalf said. "They're going to remember playing outside and they're going to remember the experiences that have a lasting impact."

That means getting the kids up and out via a focus on play, not just work.

Facilitated by Playworks, an organization that helps to encourage positive and inclusive play during recess, Sequoia Lehi has made it a core mission to get its students moving every day.

"There are group games to play every day," Metcalf said. "All the kids get involved in the game and it gets everybody moving."

He continued, "Kids need recess. It's hard for students to sit in class for seven-and-a-half hours every day and be expected to be productive. The more the students like the school, the better the kids will do."

Nicki Sanders, administrative assistant and registrar at the school, highlighted that "the students have been really been more positive" with their comments during play since the school began working with Playworks. Think "good try" rather than "you're out" during a game of kickball. "We're really impressed with that," Sanders said.

Bradley noted that just like every other subject, students are encouraged to participate in physical education.

"We tell them you are to participate," she said. "You don't get to sit out in math, so you shouldn't sit out in PE. You've got to use that to be in good shape, and it's all interwoven together. They're really getting it, that if you take care of your body, you take care of your brain."

And this focus on wellness is part of a larger strategy to build up the self-confidence of each student.

Sanders points out that each adult that works at the school knows the name of all 106 students enrolled—whether the child is in their class or not.

And that has had a major impact on the students.

Adams, whose daughters Mattison and Preslie transferred to Sequoia Lehi at the start of this school year, said, "One of the things that stood out to me was the close intimacy of the school."

"You see [Principal Metcalf] out there in the morning at pick up and getting the kids out of the car," Adams said, adding that he greets the children individually at the very start of their day.

For Amaris Saldate, whose daughter Taylor Warren, 9, just joined the school a few weeks ago, this environment is helping her daughter flourish.

"Now she wakes up early and she gets excited to go to school," Saldate said. "It's a really positive environment. She's only been there about two weeks but everybody knows her name."

In their initial meeting with Metcalf to decide if Warren would join Sequoia Lehi, Saldate said she immediately saw that the school was "feeding confidence" to its students. Taylor was enrolled days later.

To boost the self-esteem of students and teach them to chart a healthy path through life, Sequoia Lehi begins with individual attention afforded to each child, according to community members.

"When you know a child's name that is huge to them…We're like this little hidden jewel," Bradley said. "That's all the kids want: to be known, and that's what they get here."

Metcalf puts it this way: "What do you consider to be the best school? Is it one where kids are just learning math and reading, or is it one that knows who they are and encourages them and treats them like an individual? We're not a traditional school; we are a school that cares."

If you're interested in learning about a hands-on education for your child, head over to the Sequoia Lehi Charter School website to discover more.

Members of the editorial and news staff of the USA TODAY Network were not involved in the creation of this content.



Photos: Two Sequoia Lehi Charter School first graders take a break while tending to a community garden.