A special community outreach endeavor completed this semester by a group of SUNY Oneonta students has helped educate an entire elementary school of children on the basics of environmental sustainability and stewardship.
Through the college’s “Harvest Share Buddies” service learning initiative, dozens of biology and sociology students spent time in 12 different classrooms at Riverside Elementary School in Oneonta, teaching hundreds of children about food, the environment and plant biology. In their assigned K-5 classrooms, SUNY Oneonta students presented weekly interactive lessons, facilitated group discussions and got to know the children.
Environmental concepts literally came to life for the kids, as vegetable grow boxes were built and installed in the classrooms, giving students a firsthand look at where food comes from. Students grew tomatoes, lettuce and a variety of herbs and spices. When full-grown, the ingredients will be harvested and used to make pizza for the children.
The Harvest Share Buddies program, organized by Assistant Professor of Biology Sean Robinson and Associate Professor of Sociology Greg Fulkerson, is in its second year.
On the last visit of the semester, Environmental Studies major Zeke Brynin showed fourth graders a video on food waste, and the children brainstormed ways to help “reduce, reuse and recycle.” Suggestions included riding a bicycle instead of driving, reducing pollution, starting a compost pile, shopping local and growing food at home.
Next door, SUNY Oneonta student Kragh Delello asked third graders about their favorite (and least favorite) foods, spoke about the nutritional value of these foods and led a game on the class SMART Board.
“When we walk in the classroom, it’s like we’re celebrities,” Delello said. “It has been really fun getting to know these kids.”
Third-grade teacher Jacqueline Scanlon said her pupils loved having the college students come in each week.
“We called them our SUNY friends, and whenever it was time for a visit, their eyes would light up,” Scanlon said. “It’s great for these kids to meet the college students and gain a mentor-type figure, but it’s also something I appreciate because, with pressures on curriculum, this is a topic we don’t often get to talk about. But it’s so needed and relevant. My students have learned a lot.”
Sarah Petrak is a student assistant with the Office of Communications and New Media for SUNY System Administration. She is a studying Public Policy at the University at Albany.