Sustainable Jersey: Never underestimate the power of a small grant

Posted on by Donna Drewes, Co-Director, Sustainable Jersey

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C.J. Davenport and West Cape May elementary schools inspire us

 Through Sustainable Jersey for Schools, we’ve gotten to know some amazing changemakers, ranging from teachers and principals to parents and students to district administrators – all with a true passion for what they do. Their stories inspire us.

We’ve also realized that grants are a spark that can make incredible things happen. For many grant recipients, the grant they were awarded was a launching pad to something bigger. The stories are different, but each is important. Here are the experiences of two schools, each of which has achieved Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification and recently received a Sustainable Jersey for Schools grant.

Beeline to Breakfast at C.J. Davenport Elementary

As many parents can attest, it’s not easy to get kids, up, dressed, fed and to school on time. Yet, eating a healthy breakfast is critical. So, led by Ellen Gregory, the director of development for Egg Harbor Township School District, the Davenport Breakfast After the Bell pilot 2C.J. Davenport Elementary School Complex looked for a grant to fund a pilot program to address this need. The school applied for a $2,000 Sustainable Jersey for Schools grant, funded by the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), to provide healthy bagged breakfasts to students.

After the grant was awarded, more than 7,400 bagged breakfasts were served through the pilot program that lasted from January to mid-June 2016. With a focus on ease and efficiency, bagged breakfasts were provided every morning to first-grade students of C.J. Davenport Elementary School as they exited school buses. The students took the bags to the classroom to be eaten during morning preparations.

The small grant has made a big impact. The continued success of the program at C.J. Davenport Elementary has spurred expansion to other schools in the district. A similar grab-and-go bagged breakfast program was implemented last year at Alder Avenue Middle School and offered to the entire population of nearly 900 students. This year, the program was expanded to E.H. Slaybaugh Elementary School, E.H. Slaybaugh Primary School and also to 6th graders at Fernwood Avenue Middle School.

The teachers report that the students are more engaged since the Beeline to Breakfast pilot program was implemented.

“There are over forty key nutrients children need for healthy development, and those who skip breakfast have little hope of getting them later in the day,” said Kevin Fricke, the former principal of C.J. Davenport Elementary School Complex. “On top of that when a student is hungry all morning, their mind is often anywhere but focused on lessons. We believe that bringing breakfast into the classroom creates the best opportunity for turning that situation around. We will also continue teaching students about the importance of eating a healthy breakfast every day.”

Kevin Fricke is now principal at E.H. Slaybaugh Elementary School Complex.

A Greenhouse at West Cape May Elementary

It’s a shame that gardening and all of the important lessons associated with digging in the dirt have to be limited to warm months. This leaves little time for schools to involve students in gardening.

greenhousecapemayIn West Cape May, parent Dr. Inga La Puma, a biologist, spearheaded an effort to apply for a Sustainable Jersey for Schools grant funded by NJEA. The West Cape May Elementary School wanted to expand their modest school garden program by creating a winter greenhouse space that could also serve as an outdoor classroom.

The school applied for and was awarded a $10,000 Sustainable Jersey for Schools grant. Thanks to a group of volunteers, the greenhouse was built and officially opened this month to an appreciative school and community. Bob Shepanski, a local contractor, donated his time to the project and parent Mike Lanzone, who had building expertise, supervised.  Forty volunteers helped raise the greenhouse frame and then came back to do the smaller jobs of getting the greenhouse ready.

Now growing and caring for plants in the greenhouse will provide room to expand the science, math, art and nutrition curricula and provide a connection to the agricultural heritage of West Cape May. The grant will also provide for the use of the foods grown in the greenhouse to promote a Farm to School lunch program. Students will be exposed to healthy eating habits that they will take home and parents will benefit by coming together for a joint community and school effort.

Although the district was unsuccessful in its first attempt at a federal Farm to School Planning grant, Dr. La Puma and the green team are hoping to secure a future grant to implement a farm to school program that will improve access to local foods. What started out as a request to improve the lunch offerings, has blossomed into a green team, teachers trained to infuse sustainability into their curricula and collaboration with neighboring school districts to spark the Farm to School movement.

“Although West Cape May Elementary School only has 95 students, our remarkable parent, staff and student participation and support made this possible,” Superintendent Dr. Alfred Savio said. “We hope that the students and families will be positively impacted by this project. Each grade will have a project, with the fifth and sixth-graders taking on the effort to start their own business selling plants, herbs and vegetables. They will develop a business plan and budget and sell shares in the business to raise money for supplies. This grant has served to energize our school sustainability work.”


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