Success Stories

Creating a School Garden for Hands-On Nutrition Education

School Wellness

Jennings School District | Jennings, Missouri

Setting the Stage: Establishing the Local School Wellness Policy

After seeing many of his patients diagnosed with obesity, Dr. Nadim Kanafani, a pediatrician at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and a professor of pediatrics at Saint Louis University, sought funding to address this community health problem. He received a grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health to address childhood obesity and adolescent smoking in the Jennings School District.

The district hired a full-time health and wellness coordinator and gave each school $3,000 to initiate health and wellness activities.

The Schools and Communities in Partnership Project (SCIPP) was created to link the district with community supporters who could help make policy and environmental changes in the district and the surrounding community.

Although the district had a wellness policy, it did not include goals for increasing PE and physical activity, increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables, or decreasing exposure to tobacco on school property. Dr. Kanafani formed a team to work with the school district to develop, implement, and evaluate a revised wellness policy.

The team consisted of Dr. Kanafani, two registered dietitians provided by SCIPP, the district’s health and wellness coordinator, and representatives from Transtria, LLC, a public health research and consulting company. The team used the Wellness School Assessment Tool (WellSAT) to assess the district’s current policy and researched best practices used by other schools. A revised wellness policy was then submitted to the district’s school board for approval.

The team helped the district connect with partners through community networks. For example, when officials at one elementary school expressed an interest in community gardens, Dr. Kanafani contacted a colleague who served with him on the board of the Healthy Youth Partnership. This colleague was the executive director of HopeBUILD, a nonprofit organization that helps underserved communities plant community gardens. Their partnership helped to create a community garden at the school.

SCIPP initiated partnerships such as these to ensure that the district’s wellness policy was fully implemented and sustainable. To support these efforts, the district set up a health and wellness committee to guide wellness activities across the district.

This committee was led by the district’s health and wellness coordinator and included school administrators, Jennings City Council members, community members, the local health department, local community organizations, the district’s food service director, and other district staff (nurses, PE teachers, counselors, social workers, a parent liaison, and the chief financial officer). The committee met 6 times a year.

Taking Action: Activities to Meet Local School Wellness Policy Goals

Nutrition Education

To help give students hands-on nutrition education, district officials worked with HopeBUILD to create a community garden at one elementary school. The school promoted the garden to the community through flyers distributed to students, on the school’s website, and through the local media. It also invited city council members to visit the garden.

HopeBUILD led the community garden project. It also provided nutrition education to students, parents, and school staff and maintained the garden during the summer. Students and parents planted seeds, watered the garden, and harvested the crops during the school year. The city council provided topsoil and wood to build beds. The parent liaison also provided seeds for the garden and plans to recruit high school students to help maintain the garden in the summer.

Physical Education

To help make sure that students were physically activity for at least 50% of physical education (PE) class time, the health and wellness coordinator organized training sessions on the SPARK PE curriculum for district staff, including PE teachers, school nurses, social workers, and counselors. Transtria conducted the sessions, which were offered during school hours on a professional development day. Teachers used the detailed lesson plans from the SPARK PE program to add new games and activities to their classes. They also used the SPARK music CD to increase students’ excitement and interest in PE activities.


The school garden is a model for how community partners can come together with school officials to provide hands-on nutrition education for students. After they began using the SPARK PE curriculum, PE teachers in the elementary schools reported that students were less disruptive because they were busy participating in inclusive, active, and fun activities. Before this change, students were not very active in PE class because they were receiving instructions, waiting for their turn to participate in an activity, or getting in trouble for bad behavior. Now students have more time to be physically active during the entire class period.

Sourced from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Putting Local School Wellness Policies into Action. Atlanta, GA: US Dept of Health and Human Services; 2014. Available at