2018 News

USF Preschool for Creative Learning builds gardens, sustainability projects during Green Apple Day of Service

by Chelsea Grosbeck 

USF Preschool for Creative Learning students work with volunteer for gardening project

The USF Preschool for Creative Learning explored what it takes to create and maintain sustainable food resources through a national initiative to celebrate the central role that schools play in preparing the next generation of global leaders in sustainability.

Early learners at the USF Preschool for Creative Learning took their first steps in leaving behind a greener footprint during a Green Apple Day of Service event hosted at the school in October.

Aspiring to encourage young students to have positive relationships with food, the service day teaches the importance of eating healthy while diminishing food waste impact. The international movement also aims to combine values of health, environmental sustainability and education to cultivate the next generation of global leaders for an ethically conscious future.

The USF Preschool for Creative Learning is a school on the USF campus that provides a site to demonstrate, observe, study and teach exemplary practices in early childhood education. The school recognizes the active challenge facing most schools in America today: student apathy towards whole foods is rooted in the absence of food education.  

The 2010, a USDA approved bill, The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act created student opposition in requiring a fruit or vegetable with every meal. Since the introduction of the mandate, food waste in American schools increased by 75 percent, according to the School Nutrition Association.

Students, families and local volunteers got their hands dirty while renovating the school’s garden. In efforts to maximize space, grow boxes overflowing with pineapples and lemongrass were replaced with an updated no-soil agricultural technique, known as hydroponic vertical gardening. Parents got involved by constructing towers and planting fruits and vegetables while the children splattered paint onto barrels that will circulate recycled water.   

Dean Robert Knoeppel works with preschool students while preparing soil for a community garden

College of Education Dean Robert Knoeppel, PhD, joins USF Preschool for Creative Learning students in updating their on-campus gardens.

Their education about sustainability goes beyond the students’ one-day project. In an effort to instill values of individual impact at an early age, students at the Preschool learn how to observe, investigate and showcase topic findings in the classroom. With curriculum at the Preschool stemming from student interest, food sustainability was a topic that excited the students.

Eloah Decat, PhD, a teacher at the school, focuses her curriculum on the benefits of healthy cooking. In addition to incorporating the families into the lesson plan, students shared recipes, cooked in class together and took a field trip to the USF Green and Gold Farmers Market.

“The students learn about the food they are eating and how it’s grown,” Decat said. “This creates family connections through food.”

The service day provided the opportunity for teachers to take curriculum from inside the classroom out into the real world, and to engage with the students’ families, said Victoria Damjanovic, PhD, director of the USF Preschool for Creative Learning.

“The scope of this project allows for us to have the equipment and resources needed to teach the children, teachers and families about sustainability,” Damjanovic said. “It would not be possible without the generous donation from the Green Apple Day of Service Project.”

The project was supported by the generous support of the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) of Greater Tampa Bay, Tampa Urban Benefit Farms (TUB Farms), SERVPRO of Winter Haven and Painters on Demand.

Specializing in hydroponic systems, TUB Farms helped coordinate the project. The organization partners with schools around the Tampa Bay area to inspire students to develop healthy habits and give back to their community.

“70 percent of the food grown will be donated,” said Nava Kirk, founder of TUB Farms and a volunteer in the service day project. “The other 20 to 30 percent, we’ll share at the school’s farmers market.”

When the initial work is complete, teachers and students at the school will revisit the project through progress updates and keeping an eye on the results of their work. Every month, teachers will track plant growth versus student growth to measure when to harvest for the market.

“This is an encouraging way for kids to develop healthy habits at a young age that will grow with them to be a part of their life,” Kirk said.