Yum 101: Health Education at its Tastiest

It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.
—Mahatma Gandhi

What originally started as a creative idea to incorporate obesity awareness and prevention into Colchester High School’s curriculum offerings has blossomed into a great new health elective called “Food: From Soil to Stomach,” and it is already putting down roots that reach well beyond education around obesity.

And what’s more, the course embraces a number of the pathways outlined in the district’s Vision/Strategic Plan that were so steadfastly identified by our community as being important for education in our schools—particularly “Learning Outside Our Four Walls,” “Community and School Partnerships,” and “Wellness-Oriented, Balanced, and Healthy Learners.”

CHS health educator Melanie Laquerre spent nearly a year conceptualizing and designing the course, collaborating with UVM Extension in order to develop curriculum that was appropriately challenging for high school students. Designed for students interested in exploring the various aspects of food—including growing, cooking, and eating—the course covers an eclectic assortment of subject matters like nutrition and obesity, conventional versus organic agriculture, food miles, sustainability, the treatment of animals in food production, and the global implications of the production and transportation of our food supply. (As one way to help facilitate those conversations, the class viewed and discussed the film FOOD, Inc.; watch the official trailer for the film here:)


The class is highly interactive and very hands-on, encompassing aspects of cooking and gardening, and because it is open to students in grades 9–12, it encourages the development of meaningful connections across the student population—expanding their comfort zones and facilitating increased communication with one another. Under the guidance of Mrs. Laquerre and her father and uncle, the students designed and constructed eight raised garden beds for the class using mostly donated resources.

Art credit: CHS student Nick Bezio

Art credit: CHS student Nick Bezio

In addition to the raised garden, and in addition to a temporary earthworm farm, the class also installed a four-by-six-foot hydroponic garden in Mrs. Laquerre’s classroom that was donated by Colchester Middle School, using it to grow lettuce and conduct tastes tests on the produce.

One of the goals of the class is to enhance students’ community involvement and connections, and as such, the class involves some field trips, guest speakers, and participation in studies. For example, the group visited Hackett’s Orchard to gain some insight into what is involved in apple production.

Greater Burlington YMCA coach Chris Cochrane spoke with the class about the importance of physical activity, physiological and safety considerations, and how easily exercise can fit into everyday life, emphasizing setting health goals and working toward them.

The students also participated in a UVM pilot study entitled “Incorporation of a Skills-Based, Physical Activity and Nutrition Curriculum in a High School Health Class.” The pilot study was conducted by Dr. Connie Tompkins, and it focused upon such skills as calculating target heart rates for weight loss, cardiovascular health, and endurance as well as aspects of healthy eating, including reading food labels, measuring appropriate serving sizes, and understanding portion distortion. (Dr. Tompkins is also spearheading a pilot program at Malletts Bay School studying the effects of exercise on academic performance, concentration, cognitive function, and health measures; we discussed this pilot program in our November 30 CSD Spotlight feature.) In addition, a UVM student is currently working on a thesis project about sustainability, developing curriculum that will be presented to the class upon completion.

In early November, the students hosted a garden celebration event as a gesture of appreciation to all who supported the efforts to construct the raised beds. In addition to the field trips, guest speakers, and participation in studies, Mrs. Laquerre hopes to develop relationships with community gardening groups, senior citizens, students from other schools in our district, and anyone interested in volunteering their time and energy to enhance the program.

And the district’s food service department has been highly supportive of the class, inviting the group to work with them in the kitchen. The students have cooked meals, conducted taste tests, and handed out samples as part of their work in the class.

For more information about the course or about health education in general, please e-mail Melanie Laquerre.

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