“Seed Scholarships” and Orange County Head Start Project
Situation: Head Start is a national school readiness program created as part of a “war on poverty”. Specifically, it is designed to promote healthy development and assist children from low-income families overcome the disadvantages of poverty before they start formal education. Orange County Head Start has twenty unique sites and currently serves 1,536 children between the ages of three and five. Nemours Children Hospital, Orange County Head Start, and UF/IFAS Extension Orange County Master Gardeners, collaborated to begin “Seed Scholarships” for each Head Start Site. Master Gardener volunteers assist with the creation of Orange County Head Start gardens and provide educational assistance on an as needed basis at each site.
Methods: The Orange County Head Start Division Manager made a decision to have a school garden at each of its twenty sites. Funding was made available by the UF/IFAS Orange County Master Gardener Advisory Committee to purchase vegetable and herb seeds for each location. Twenty Master Gardeners were partnered with a site to serve as a garden mentor and educator. Ad hoc meetings determined by the Orange County Head Start site manager were employed to obtain educational assistance from a Master Gardener when issues came up in the garden. Results: Fifteen of the twenty Head Start sites (75%) have active gardens and thirteen of the twenty Head Start sites (65%) have a good working relationship with the Master Gardener Volunteers. The five sites without a school garden intend to have one by next fall. Conclusion: While trying to encourage Head Start Site Managers to see the value in utilizing gardens as an educational tool, challenges have been encountered. The resilience (patience, fortitude, and positive customer service attitude) of the Master Gardener Volunteers working on this project has been critical to its early success and for its future success.