- Author: Chutima Ganthavorn
- Editor: Andra Nicoli
- Contributor: Jackie Barahona
Strong partnership between CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE Riverside County and Desert Sands Unified Early Childhood Education has resulted in preschool children developing healthier habits and healthier school environments.
The Desert Sands Unified (DSUSD) Early Childhood Education (ECE) Program operates nine Head Start/State Preschool sites to serve limited resource families in Coachella Valley. The District's Head Start Needs Assessment indicates that the majority (80%) of 220 parents/guardians responded to the survey are Hispanic females in their 20s and 30s living in Indio. A large percentage said they are fluent in both English (88%) and Spanish (71%), and only 10.4% of participants speak only Spanish at home. The 2019 Community Health Survey found that one in four (24.9%) of Coachella Valley adults are living at or below 100% federal poverty level (harcdata.org) and over 40% of children have experienced one or more of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). ACEs is an indication of household instability and has been linked to risky health behaviors and chronic health problems in adulthood.
How UC Delivers
Since 2012, the CalFresh Healthy Living (CFHL), UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Riverside County has developed a partnership with DSUSD ECE Program. The program has grown over the years to include teacher participation from all nine ECE sites and expanded direct education to comprehensive programming. In 2019-2020, CFHL, UCCE Educator Jackie Barahona provided teacher training for 16 ECE teachers to support delivery of the Go, Glow, Grow (GGG) curriculum with physical activity promotion to 469 preschool students. In addition, she has provided fruit taste-testing and guest speaker presentations in 11 classes before COVID-19 forced school closures. CFHL, UCCE also reached out to Head Start parents and provided direct education to 37 parents, including 54% that participated in the nutrition series. To stimulate organizational and environmental changes, the CFHL, UCCE Educator attended six Head Start Policy Committee meetings as an active community partner and provided technical assistance to 15 teachers to complete pre-scorecard assessments and plan implementation of Smarter Mealtimes. Moreover, CFHL, UCCE Riverside County participated in the Jackson Preschool Walkathon event by holding an informational booth to educate and distribute indirect resources to families. With the start of the new school year, the CFHL, UCCE program has pivoted to virtual meetings. In September 2020, CFHL, UCCE presented GGG handwashing lesson to preschool children and their families and participated in one policy committee meeting via Zoom.
The strong partnership between CFHL, UCCE Riverside County and Desert Sands Unified Early Childhood Education has led to the implementation of healthy environmental changes in the schools, such as making healthy food choices available at school as well as providing consistent health messaging to teachers and parents to foster good food habits in preschool children. Additionally, data collected from 20 participating teachers during 2019 and 2020 shows 84% of teachers strongly agree that more students can now identify healthy food choices; 74% strongly agree that more students now are willing to try new foods at school; and 100% strongly agree that more students now wash hands more often before handling food. All teachers said they now encourage students to eat breakfast and to be physically active. Since children learn food preferences while they are young, research shows it is important to promote the acceptance of healthier foods in early childhood education settings (healthyeatingresearch.org). In this way, the program contributes to improved health for all and the public value of promoting healthy people and communities.
"Our teachers indicate that incorporating a nutrition curriculum to their instruction is a positive way to introduce the importance of nutrition to our preschool students and their families. The resources we receive from you are age appropriate and very well received. In addition, having you as a nutrition bilingual educator supports the teachers and their families to adequately implement the program." From Dr. J. Rallion, DSUSD ECE Principal
“Great nutrition/healthy curriculum. The children respond and are engaged with the games, recipes and activities. Thank you for your support in creating a healthier generation.” Mrs. Alvarez, DSUSD Child Development Center