By Aaron Coleman

Sunlight shines through Sweetgreen’s tall panoramic windows. Inside the bright, airy restaurant, Jamal Henderson and eleven other students from Garfield Elementary School sit and stir with anticipation. Jamal’s wide eyes are exploring the room’s woodgrain benches and chrome table tops when his concentration is drawn back to the instructor’s voice.

“Notice how smooth the cucumber is,” says Atara, the Sweetgreen in Schools’ instructor. Jamal takes the cucumber in his hand examining its firm, cool exterior. “It’s a little oily at the top,” he says. “Very good!” replies Atara. “That’s because cucumbers have essential oils, which are great for our diet and help keep our skin soft and healthy.”

These students from Garfield Elementary are participating in Sweetgreen’s interactive wellness workshop called Sweetgreen in Schools. The initiative educates students about healthy eating, fitness and sustainability through fun, hands-on activities. Each lesson ends with students making salads from seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Sweetgreen’s focus on teaching through fun activities drives the program’s success. Handling ripe carrots, apples and cucumbers is more engaging than the standard lecture against eating chips or drinking sugary sodas. The workshops capture students’ attention and prompts them to think critically and carefully about their own eating habits.

At City Year, we help students overcome obstacles that can hamper their ability to learn, and in Southeast DC, where Garfield Elementary is located, poor health can be a hurdle to a quality education. The area has been called a "food desert" meaning that access to fresh, quality food is limited. According to the DC Department of Public Health's 2013 Community Health Needs Assessment, residents living in Ward 8 “have the highest obesity rates, and are least likely to exercise or consume the recommended serving of fruits and vegetables."

In high need communities like Southeast DC, it is imperative that educators not just teach, but inspire wonder and bring life to education. This is why the City Year team at Garfield Elementary invited Sweetgreen in Schools to partner with Garfield. The workshops’ interactive approach to teaching wellness makes nutrition meaningful and memorable for children. This new partnership will help prevent poor physical and emotional health from impairing students’ education.  Together, Garfield Elementary, Sweetgreen in Schools, and City Year DC are creating a healthier school--one student a time.

Aaron Coleman, author, is a City Year AmeriCorps member serving at Garfield Elementary School. His team is sponsored by the Horning Family Fund.

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