Proper Nutrition ‘Hits Home’ in Elementary School Program
Second- and third-grade students at KIPP Explore Academy in Houston’s East End are bringing home more than homework these days. They’re also bringing home healthy fruits and vegetables.
The youngsters are part of a new program called ACE – an acronym for Access, Continuity and Education. ACE not only educates students and their families about food and nutrition, but it goes a step beyond by making healthy foods available.
Over the program’s 16-week duration, 50 servings of produce per week are sent home with parents, along with nutritional handouts and recipe cards. Families are treated to taste-testing sessions, and in the classroom students learn the CATCH, or Coordinated Approach to Child Health, curriculum. CATCH is a school-based health program that was developed at the University of Texas School of Public Health at Houston in the late 1980s to promote physical activity and healthy food choices, and prevent tobacco use. Initially funded by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, the program began on a trial basis. CATCH has since been adopted by more than 8,500 schools in the United States and abroad.
CATCH is a component of the ACE program, as is the after-school vegetable “takeaway.” Jon Adler and his wife Lisa Helfman came up with the idea of bringing the food cooperative concept to children. Helfman serves as director of real estate services at Texas Children’s Hospital.
The couple had participated in a co-op and saw the difference it made to their family and children’s eating habits. They wanted to help others experience the co-op advantage, so they made some inquiries and their idea landed at the University of Texas School of Public Health at Houston.
“We helped give structure to the idea by calculating the amount of produce that should go home each week, and by developing the nutrition education materials and evaluating the effectiveness of the program,” said Shreela Sharma, Ph.D., assistant professor in the School of Pubic Health.
In addition to Sharma, the ACE team at the School of Public Health includes Christine Markham, Ph.D., registered dietitian Laura Moore, research coordinator Michael Pomeroy, graduate assistant Katherine Albus, and student Courtenay Smith.
The ACE program is a collaboration of the Houston Food Bank, which supplies all the produce for ACE at minimal cost, Texas Children’s Hospital, KIPP schools and The UT Health Science Center at Houston.