Playing In The Dirt - EverGreen Schools program brings children closer to nature

BY: Ann Marie Quill of The Roswell Current

These days it’s harder than ever to get children outside. Between video games, computers and TVs at home, to schools cutting recess time to focus on standardized tests, children are losing their connection with nature. In 2005 author Richard Louv coined the term “nature-deficit disorder” in the bestseller “Last Child in the Woods.”
This lack of outdoor time has also contributed to childhood obesity, which some experts consider the No. 1 health problem among today’s kids, potentially leading to heart problems, diabetes, cancer, hypertension, Alzheimer’s and even Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
But one city initiative is working to get schoolchildren outside, with the benefit of teaching them to care for the environment by forging a connection with nature.
The EverGreen program, a joint initiative of the cities of Roswell and Alpharetta and Keep Johns Creek Beautiful, was scheduled to kick off for this school year on Sept. 10. North Fulton schools are encouraged to register for the program and set specific goals for the year.
Mountain Park Elementary is just one Roswell school that has embraced the initiative. It was named the 2007-08 Environmental School of the Year by the city of Roswell, with the Mountain Park wildlife refuge the perfect setting to draw the children outside.
Mountain Park teacher Yanique Michaud helped get the initiative at her school rolling, drawing on her own childhood experiences at summer camp where she would help with the garden. “It was so cool to pick a tomato off the bush and eat it,” she said.So when Michaud arrived at Mountain Park, she initiated an outdoor classroom project which includes garden plots containing flowers, vegetables and herbs.
“The kids love it,” she said. “Every kid will take away something different — some love playing in the dirt and finding worms that were not there before. We’ve got kids who started their own gardens at home. I’m always trying to get my students to go outside. If we are having a bad day, I say ‘let’s go out.’” Michaud says the gardens also contribute to the students’ problem-solving skills.
“They’ll wonder, ‘why does that tomato have a spot, look it up, and find it’s because of not enough calcium,’” she said. “When they see it and its tangible, they get it — so much more than reading it in book.” The school is also starting an environmental club and has a recycling program in place.
Laura Aikens, environmental education specialist for the city of Roswell who heads the EverGreen program here, listed more examples of schools initiating innovative environmental programs, including: Esther Jackson Elementary’s staging of a musical of environmental songs; High Meadows School’s hiring of an environmental education teacher; Centennial High’s environment club, which has more than 50 members; and Roswell North Elementary’s monthly waste-free lunch day, in which all food containers must be recyclable or washed — nothing can be thrown away.
Aikens said 14 schools signed up for the EverGreen program last year, and schools have until the end of October to sign up this year.
“It’s about the kids being outdoors,” she said. “It helps them through the school day and makes them more aware of the environment.”

More information about the EverGreen Schools program can be found at:

http://www.roswellgov.com/Archive.aspx?AMID=37