McAuliffe Elementary students loaded a van with vegetables, herbs and flowers from their school garden and gave away the fresh produce for free Tuesday morning in nearby neighborhoods.
The van followed the school’s “bookmobile,” which blasts popular music on an exterior speaker and circles several neighborhoods and housing complexes in the school’s attendance area to draw students and their families out of their homes to borrow books each Tuesday in the summer.
Holding a sign that read “FREE VEGGIES,” 10-year-old Isyss Owens helped give away the produce as a participant in the Global Gardens summer program at McAuliffe, which is at 6515 S. Garnett Road in Broken Arrow.
In addition to the summer program, the nonprofit has after-school and during-school programs at schools in low-income communities in the Tulsa area to encourage children and their families to grow and cook fresh food.
“What’s so cool about it is you can harvest and give it to people who want plants and don’t have (them) in their gardens,” Isyss said, adding that the students also hand out recipes to give families ideas of how to use the vegetables.
The two vans — one with boxes of fresh produce and the other lined with shelves of children’s books — made several stops in part of the Union Public Schools attendance area in Broken Arrow and east Tulsa to encourage kids to keep reading and make healthy food choices during the summer.
About 20 students, entering grades three through six at McAuliffe, helped give away the produce, which included kale, Swiss chard, carrots, collard greens, beets, turnips, basil, sage and mint. The students also handed out a recipe for a kale smoothie because they had grown so much kale in the raised beds at their school.
McAuliffe Principal Jennifer McKnight, who traveled with the group Tuesday, said the programs help keep the school connected with the community during the summer break.
It also fits with the school district’s goals as a member of the Community Schools Initiative, which McKnight said is to “take an active role in the child’s life, both at school and outside of school hours” and to “reach out to the community and help support their needs, whether it’s through the books, for their reading each week, or through the fresh vegetables, for them to eat.”
“Some of the families don’t have the opportunity to go to the library, and this is bringing the library to them,” McKnight said about the bookmobile, adding that the Global Gardens summer program encourages children to “continue to foster the love of nature, of learning about plants and growing, and being able to get the whole concept of having that self-sustaining garden.”
McKnight said at least 10 teachers volunteer to help with the bookmobile each Tuesday during the summer to support and stay connected with the students at their school.
“We get a lot of tears on the last day of school because that’s a long time for them to not see their teachers,” McKnight said of students. “So when they come out on Tuesdays, I think it’s just as much for the teachers to see the kids as it is for the kids to see the teachers.”
McAuliffe librarian Kirby Thomas said she and other school staff started the “book van” summer tradition six years ago, when they realized prompting kids to read by providing easy access to new books could help prevent the “summer slide” during which students lose reading skills over the break from school.
The bookmobile was given to the school by talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres in February 2014 in response to emails from Thomas and other school staff.
When students finish a book borrowed from the bookmobile, they’re asked to write a reflection on a note card. Teachers then place the note cards in a drawing and give away prizes to motivate the students to keep reading.
Desiree Ball, who will be in the fifth grade at McAuliffe in the fall, picked out 10 books to take home from the bookmobile on Tuesday. She also picked up some yellow flowers to take to her mom.
Desiree was accompanied by her grandmother, Betty Wallander, who said she thinks the Global Gardens program is “very vital to the world.”
“It teaches kids responsibility; it provides food and, you know, cheers everybody up with the flowers,” Wallander said.
The Global Gardens and Summer Mobile Media Book programs at the school are funded by a grant from the Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation, McKnight said.