UOW to evaluate $12.8 million national kitchen-garden program in schools
Green thumbs, good health and key learning performance are some of the main markers to be employed by a team of UOW researchers in their assessment of a novel in-school garden program.
The Australian Health Services Research Institute (AHSRI) has recently won a bid to evaluate the renowned Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden National Program that aims to positively influence food choices among children.
Implemented in over 100 Australian primary schools, the government-funded project teaches students from years 3 - 6 how to grow, harvest and prepare fresh food. Its philosophy centres on engaging and memorable food experiences to reinforce healthy, lifelong eating habits.
According to lead investigator Associate Professor Heather Yeatman, the task of measuring the program’s effective outcomes is no mean feat.
“It won’t be easy, as there’s a lot that goes on at the school level and many schools are involved in a number of programs,” Professor Yeatman said.
“We are currently developing our evaluation tools but are confident that if there are any changes underway, we will be able to identify the patterns and trends,” she said.
Four years since the program’s rollout into schools, the research team will assess a variety of factors including changes to food preferences, lifestyle, behaviour and cooking skills, to determine its positive reach.
Broader implications for students’ academic performance in reference to Key Learning Areas will also be considered.
It is hoped that the $12.8 million preventative health program can contribute to other national policy agendas such as social inclusion and core curricula.
In keeping with the evaluation’s wide terms of reference, AHSRI Director Professor Kathy Eagar said diversity was the research group’s greatest strength.
“UOW’s nomination for this evaluation clearly demonstrates the advantages of cross disciplinary research teams – in this case bringing together public health, nutrition and education expertise with the range of disciplines of the AHSRI staff,” Professor Eagar said.
Researchers have already met government representatives in Canberra and plan to host a national workshop later in the year. The next few months will be committed to a national tour of 50 schools, data analysis and collection.
The UOW research team will be led by Professor Yeatman, together with Senior Research Fellow Karen Quinsey. Research team members include Dr Deanne Condon-Paoloni (Health Sciences), Dr Wendy Nielsen (Education) and participating AHSRI personnel.
By Melissa Coade