Building a Healthy Mississippi

School Garden Program

“We are excited to transform the Mannsdale Upper Elementary School garden and greenhouse into a year-round learning lab to encourage students to choose healthy nutritious foods. Our goal is to support health and well-being and serve as an educational hub to teach parents, students and community members the basic principles of gardening.” Rolando Roman, Physical Education Teacher, Mannsdale Upper Elementary School

The Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation is partnering with K-12 schools across the state to provide school gardens for healthy hands-on learning experiences. The Foundation’s school garden program uses the schoolyard as a classroom fully integrated into the fabric of participating schools and the academic experience of every student. In a school garden, students become farmers, scientists, mathematicians, historians, poets, chefs and horticulturists making the full learning experience more relevant and engaging.

As of 2021, the Foundation has funded 67 school gardens in 36 Mississippi counties, including Mannsdale Upper Elementary School in Madison County. With a greenhouse, 39 raised garden beds, five hydroponic tower gardens and a compost bin, the school implemented the "Junior Master Gardener Program" developed by Texas A&M University and affiliated with Mississippi State University Extension Service.

“The Program incorporates cross-curriculum learning of care and cultivation of crops with academic studies,” said Rolando Roman, Mannsdale Physical Education Teacher. “Throughout the school year, teachers collaborate to incorporate science, math, social studies, art and other subjects into the school garden program.”

With a Foundation grant award, Bell Academy, located in the fertile soil of the Mississippi Delta, created outdoor and indoor edible gardens and built a greenhouse and outdoor classroom to encourage healthy eating and active living among students and teachers.

“Our students are eager to participate in garden activities and learn about growing and harvesting fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Tiffanie Russell, Bell Academy Principal. “The teachers’ newly gained knowledge in gardening and agriculture is also helping build positive relationships with students as they work side-by-side in the school garden.”

Hills Chapel School in Prentiss County received Foundation grant funds to create a school garden and greenhouse, including raised garden beds for growing carrots, radishes and squash. The in-ground garden is used for growing pumpkins in the fall, and in the summer months, watermelons are planted and harvested with volunteer assistance from school leaders, students, parents and community members.

“Using the schoolyard as a classroom broadens students’ knowledge of healthy food sources and provides opportunities to learn about teamwork,” said Hills Chapel Principal Nickey Marshall. “The garden also sparks creativity and offers a place to teach academic subjects like math, science and language arts.”

The Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation has a successful history of supporting schools and recognizes health and well-being as an integral part of excellence in education and life-long success. Through school garden programs, the Foundation is ensuring students learn to value their own health and the importance of making healthy food choices.

Pictured at right: School garden programs at Mannsdale Elementary School (two top images); Bell Academy (two center images); and Hills Chapel School (two bottom images)