City’s Plan to Reduce Obesity is Taking Root
City’s plan to reduce obesity is taking root
A new garden bed on the Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet Elementary School campus is part of a larger plan coming out of City Hall to reduce childhood obesity in Little Rock while encouraging residents to volunteer and improve their neighborhoods.
Students in the school’s Environmental and Spatial Technology class planted tomatoes, zucchini and strawberries Wednesday, marking the start of Little Rock’s new Love Your School initiative.
Little Rock was one of a handful of cities that received a $200,000 Cities of Service grant last year from the Rockefeller Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies to encourage residents to take on community challenges.
The Love Your School initiative is one of several programs rolling out this year under the “Little Rock Serves” plan created by the city’s chief service officer. The nutrition program comes after state-required body-mass-index testing revealed last year that 38 percent of students in the Little Rock School District and 36 percent of students in the Pulaski County Special School District are overweight or obese.
While the Love Your School initiative focuses on nutrition, other programs will involve creating teams of adult and student volunteers to maintain city parks, as well as giving out $1,000 “mini-grants” for neighborhood improvement projects. High school students in the park program, which for now focuses on teens in the School District’s Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program, will earn an hour of credit toward graduation through their volunteer hours.
The city also launched a website, littlerockserves. org, on Wednesday as a resource for information on getting involved in the various city initiatives and to allow organizations to post volunteer opportunities.
“We find many people don’t know where to look for these opportunities,” said Mayor Mark Stodola during a news conference at the elementary school.
The initiatives are a result of hundreds of surveys of Little Rock nonprofits, neighborhood associations and residents on what issues could be addressed with the help of volunteers.
King Elementary already has several beds of vegetables growing with the help of a master gardener, but Principal Tyrone Harris said a grant the school had applied for to expand the program was denied.
“This is only going to enhance it,” Harris said about the city’s Love Your School initiative.
Along with the new garden spot, Harris said, the program will eventually lead to community cooking classes at the school. Neighbors will be encouraged to help tend the plot, and children can take the vegetables home come harvest time.
“We just see a vision of partnering with the neighborhood and the school,” the principal said.
Several students in the Environmental and Spatial Technology program said they are looking forward to seeing new vegetables sprouting and taking them home.
“We want to grow this so we can stop childhood obesity,” said Braylon Shavers, a fourth-grader at the school.
“Too many kids are going to the hospital because they don’t have enough exercise,” he said.
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