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Roncinske spearheads healthy living in Kenbridge

Kenbridge Elementary School teacher Mark Roncinske is hoping to promote healthy eating habits and healthier people by helping spearhead the planting of a garden at the school.

Students would work the garden, but so would locals and volunteers. He said such programs engage students and make teachers more effective while also providing kinesthetic opportunities for inquiry and experimentation that cannot be duplicated in the conventional classroom.

School gardens also reduce student stress levels, increase self-esteem, problem solving, motivation to learn and interest in improving the environment, Roncinske said.

Just as importantly, the work would help young people learn to develop an appreciation of the environment and of healthier fare. And specifically, Roncinske said, the garden could inspire the students to develop an appreciation for vegetables healthier eating habits for a lifetime.

“Every day I sit at the school and watch those fruits and vegetables go right in the trash can,” Roncinske said. “You can’t substitute healthy eating. It has to begin at this level. It has to.”

Roncinske cited statistics from the Center for Disease Control noting the percentage of elementary school aged children — 6 to 11 years old — who were obese in the United States more than doubled from 7 percent in 1980 to nearly 18 percent in 2012.

Lunenburg County Public Schools will seek grant money to help fund the program, but supporters have raised a little over $400, and expect to begin the effort very soon after raising another couple of hundred dollars, Roncinske said. That, he expects, will be soon.

“And that,” said Marianne Cicala, owner of Twigs & Berries garden supplies in Kenbridge, and one of the advocates and supporters of the effort, “is without batting an eye. There are plenty of people who want to help.”

Garlic and onions could “take us through winter,” Roncinske said. Eventually, there could be fruit trees and bushes.

“Being an old agriculture teacher, I think this is great,” said Superintendent Charles M. Berkley Jr. of the effort.

Roncinske outlined his ideas to the members of the county’s school board during its Monday, Oct. 12, meeting and built his presentation on information he pulled from the CDC, state agricultural websites, and a Time magazine article from September.

Kenbridge would not be the first area school, and is following the lead of Buckingham County Primary and Elementary School in Dillwyn, he said.

Roncinske called the garden proposal part of a national movement. Indeed, in places like New York and California, such programs are commonplace in schools.

“It’s happening everywhere,” he said. “A lot of schools have taken this very seriously.”

And that’s a good thing, he said, because as there is certainly a need for education to stress technology, there should also be respect for nature.

“We need both,” he said. “The pride of growing your first plant or eatable vegetable is something everyone can experience. Having fun while experiencing success is what we should all be striving to leave as our legacy to our students.”

Meanwhile, MeriPage Spencer, the system’s coordinator of parental involvement, said the system is seeking grant money to form a Healthy Communities Action Team that could then tie into Roncinske’s efforts.

The healthy communities program is part of a broader statewide effort that, in part, helps locals identify opportunities in their community to address obesity prevention through policy, systems and environmental changes.

“We feel this is a very, very important issue and topic,” Spencer said. “Not just for our kids, but for the county to be healthier.”