Guest Post: How a Learning Garden Helped Us Become One of America’s Healthiest Schools

Today, we are pleased to turn our blog over to guest poster and passionate Memphis teacher, Kyle Kuusisto, of Maxine Smith STEAM Academy.  Maxine Smith, a Big Green Learning Garden school, has been named one of America’s Healthiest Schools by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. America’s Healthiest Schools are identified as those “which are positively impacting kids’ health and lifelong success” and that “primarily [serve] students from neighborhoods with high-poverty and high-obesity rates.”  Read on to learn why Mr. Kuusisto is so proud (and rightfully so!) of his school’s real food accomplishments.


As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “it is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.” There is no greater asset than health. From the time we are born to our final years, health impacts nearly every part of our existence. That’s why it is so important that we teach children healthy habits from an early age.

At my school, Maxine Smith STEAM Academy in Memphis, we seek to do just that by providing an environment that is safe and nurturing, and one that cultivates the whole child. As a result, we were one of more than 300 schools nationwide to be named to the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s 2017 list of America’s Healthiest Schools. We were one of only 10 schools to receive the highest level of recognition—the National Healthy Schools Gold Award!

To receive the Gold Award, schools are required to implement at least four “Farm to School” initiatives that bring locally or regionally grown produce into school cafeterias and include activities related to gardening, cooking, and agriculture.

It’s so critical to expose kids to “real food” because it engages all their senses and fills the gap between historically rural, agrarian cultures to present-day cultures, whereby many people live in urban areas that rely heavily on industry and technology to produce food. At Maxine Smith, we’re committed to ensuring our students have the opportunity to not only learn about where their food comes from, but to learn how real food can fuel their bodies and minds for success in school and in life.

Our work with Big Green was instrumental in becoming one of America’s Healthiest Schools. From planning and installing our Learning Garden to working with our local liaison Marie Dennan to plan and maintain year-round gardens, we’ve learned so much about how to bring this valuable educational opportunity to our students and staff.

The results of these efforts have been nothing short of amazing. We utilize the Garden Bites curriculum to teach students how to make healthy, nutritious food with our harvests. We take advantage of the serenity of the garden to host mindfulness, yoga and meditation exercises that relax our students. Academically, students are learning the science of gardening and gaining a deeper sense of how ecosystems affect us as a community.

Every child deserves a healthy school. It’s important for parents, teachers and community members to be advocates for the health of their kids. Together, we have the power to create a healthier next generation of kids. My advice for leaders looking to improve the health of their school is to engage as many stakeholders and supporters as possible. You cannot do it alone! From the expertise of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s school health experts to the support of Big Green’s local staff, we’re grateful for the encouragement and resources we received to meet (and exceed!) our health and wellness goals.

Are you a health champion ready to guide your school in becoming one of America’s Healthiest Schools? Sign up and get started on your journey, today!