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Teens develop as leaders by mentoring children in school garden program

The Issue

School gardens are becoming increasingly popular additions to campuses as an experiential tool to promote healthy living. Unfortunately, schools often lack resources to staff gardens and provide educational opportunities in these outdoor learning environments.

What Has ANR Done?

UC CalFresh Nutrition Education and 4-H Youth Development Programs in San Mateo County collaborated to create the Healthy Living Ambassadors (HLA) Garden Program where teens provide near-peer mentorship to elementary children. This innovative project merges healthy eating educational goals of UC CalFresh with the youth development and leadership focus of 4-H. To date, the program has enrolled 130 unique teens, reaching 895 children in seven schools across the county, with funding support from San Mateo County and the Disney Connecting Youth to Nature grant. Teens are selected and invited to become “HLAs” in an intensive training at UC Elkus Ranch Environmental Education Center, part of UCCE San Mateo County. During the training, they gain skills in gardening, food cultivation, food preparation, nutrition, youth development, and physical activity. The teens then return to their communities to teach elementary youth how to thrive in their school gardens using the Learn, Grow, Eat, and Go! garden-enhanced nutrition education curriculum.

The Payoff

The Healthy Living Ambassadors program promotes confidence in teens

Since spring 2014, this exemplary program has provided life-changing experiences for many teens, including those from low-income communities. This is especially true for Kim Bonifacio, one of the first Healthy Living Ambassadors. When Kim immigrated to Daly City from the Philippines at age 10, she didn’t know a word of English and barely spoke in public. She was also shocked to discover that children didn’t go outside. The HLA program made sense to Kim. “Gardens are outside, and they are safe. So why not create a program that would bridge together youth and the importance of healthy living? Working in the school garden would help my community by teaching children the importance of eating right, being active, and caring for the environment.” She attributes her participation in the HLA Program in helping her develop into a confident role model. Upon graduating high school, Kim became the first person in her family to go to college and was awarded multiple scholarships to attend UCLA.

Clientele Testimonial

“Being a Healthy Living Ambassador helped me with my social skills. We now appreciate our own teachers more. Teachers have a lot of patience." - Joehsella Mae Herrera, HLA 2016-17

“Teaching is fun and helps me be a leader” -Catherine De Guzman, HLA 2016-17


C. Sheena Sidhu, Staff Research Associate, cssidhu@ucanr.edu; Wei-ting Chen, Nutrition Family & Consumer Sciences Advisor, wtgchen@ucanr.edu; Mary Vollinger, UC CalFresh Program Supervisor, mvollinger@ucanr.edu; Andra Nicoli, UC CalFresh Program Analyst, amnicoli@ucdavis.edu