TYRONE - In less than two weeks, Tyrone Area Elementary School's pupils will be dismissed for summer break, but thanks to a special planting project, they will be able to come back this fall and enjoy the fruits of their labor - literally.
Thanks to a two-year $15,000 Albemarle Corp. grant, Dean of Students Mike McKee began working with American Heart Association and school administrators to create a Plant Day celebration and give the kids a chance to plant their own fruits and vegetables and encourage them to try new foods.
That plan came to fruition May 16, when students from each grade level worked to plant their own seedlings in raised planter boxes, then gathered for a garden dedication ceremony.
The older students from agriculture teacher Tiffany Hoy's classes worked to put together the boxes and haul dirt, and they helped the younger students get their first taste of farming - even if it was on a smaller scale.
"They were all excited to be a part of it," McKee said. "It was a districtwide effort."
The garden was part of the American Heart Association's Teaching Gardens, part of its "My Heart. My Life." initiative.
Lauren Rieser, youth markets vice president for the American Heart Association's west and central Pennsylvania district, said the program is fairly new and Tyrone's is the first one in the area.
The gardens began in 2010 as a way to combat current obesity trends by teaching positive behaviors.
According to the American Heart Association, french fries now make up one-fourth of children's vegetable intake, and juice accounts for 40 percent of fruit intake.
But recent studies, including one from St. Louis University's Obesity Prevention Center, show that children who are more involved with food, from planting to preparation, are more likely to try new things and enjoy foods beyond chicken nuggets and peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches.
"That's the purpose," McKee said, adding that hopefully more picky eaters will be up for trying something they had a hand in growing.
Rieser said the association hopes to change children's health by getting them more involved with what they're eating.
McKee said school officials set up a watering schedule to make sure the plants are tended to all summer, since "the planting season doesn't really follow a school schedule."
With the school's summer and day care programs, McKee said some students will be able to track the plants and watch them grow.
Come fall, there will be a final harvest day for the students to enjoy their hard work, he said.
While students can get at least one more planting season out of the program, McKee said he hopes the district and agriculture department can help to sustain it.
"It's not a normal thing schools do," McKee said, but more than 900 excited students helped to get it started and he would like to watch it, and the vegetables, grow.
Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.