As I waited for the receptionist to print my badge, I saw parents coming and going, picking up their kids from Pre-K. There were tiny backpacks on little shoulders. But there were also grocery bags filled with…onions and potatoes? And oranges and pecans, and zucchini and kale. Yes, KALE.
I watched as excited children lugged their produce out the door, and excited parents talked with them about eating it. This was awesome, and exactly the reason for my visit to the North Pre-K 4 SA Education Center.
Back in 2011, San Antonio mayor Julian Castro introduced a plan that would offer free or affordable pre-kindergarten and after-school care to four-year olds in San Antonio. Dubbed Pre-K 4 SA, the program opened its first two education centers (there will be four total) and began its curriculum in July, 2013. According to its website, this is what parents can expect from the program:
Pre-K 4 SA is a full-day prekindergarten program that also offers free afterschool care until 6:00 p.m. The program is highlighted by our experienced teachers, high quality curriculum and bilingual education options. Students are provided healthy and delicious meals including breakfast, lunch, and snacks at no extra cost and transportation is also available.
While we don’t have kids, Vickie and I are both in love with education and want all children to have the best possible chance to receive it. One of the things we care deeply about is teaching kids to develop healthy relationships with healthy food. So when I learned of the produce market being held at the North Pre-K 4 SA Education Center, I knew I had to check it out. What I was expecting was just a farmer’s market. What I found was so much more.
After spending some time watching parents and kids making their selections from tables of fresh produce, I spoke with North Education Center Assistant Director Denise Barrera-Tejeda and Rachel Yon, the Pre-K 4 SA Program Manager at food service company Selrico Services.
According to Ms. Yon, not only is Selrico contracted to provide fresh, healthy meals to the four-year olds attending Pre-K 4 SA, they also provide nutrition education to both children and parents. Each month she arranges a different educational activity geared toward increasing awareness of healthy eating habits. Dieticians from Jan Tilley & Associates teach kids about how foods give us energy and about the importance of “eating the rainbow” (eating fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors). Parents receive the same information on an adult level, plus recipes and tips for dealing with picky eaters and more.
Another way Selrico gets the kids more involved in their own healthy choices is by creating “teaching gardens”. The first one, located at the Pre-K 4 SA South Education Center, has nine beds and produced its first crops in the Fall of 2013. Spring 0f 2014 will see the addition of a garden at the North Center. Teachers are sent to a garden training day to help them get started and the staff helps out, but they need parent involvement to make the gardens a long-term success.
Ms. Barrera-Tejeda explained that the first produce market, held at the South Center in November of 2013, received such enthusiastic feedback from parents that Pre-K 4 SA and Selrico decided to make it a monthly event. Selrico buys the fresh fruits and vegetables from local company River City Produce and provides them at cost for the market. This means that parents can buy fresh foods for their families for only a dollar a basket.
During my interviews I was watching a very energetic little boy carrying baskets of oranges around the market area. When I had gathered the information I needed, I wandered over to see what he was up to. I found his mom, Jame Arias, volunteering at the table holding oranges, pecans and yellow squash. Her helper was her son, Aiden.
Ms. Arias was eager to tell me how much Aiden loves learning about fresh fruits and vegetables. He’s come home from school, she said, asking for things like broccoli. I was impressed. I must, at this point, shamefully confess that I never even dared put a stalk of the stuff into my mouth until I was well into my 30s! It seems to me that if Pre-K 4 SA and Selrico can get a four-year-old to request broccoli, they’re on the right track with the children of San Antonio.