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Thanksgiving spirit started early at Colden Elementary

Colden Elementary School students got a feel for the holiday spirit a month early this year, when they learned the school won a Get Out and Grow grant and that a top Paralympic athlete would be the one to deliver the check.

“What a unique opportunity for my kids, a life-changing learning opportunity,” Principal Marcole Feuz said.

Colden Elementary isn’t considered a school in need, so often is challenged when it applies for grants that encourage healthier habits among its 170 students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

Kathy Townsend, principal of special programs, learned about the Get Out and Grow competition, sponsored by the J.M. Smucker Co. Away from Home program. The school must use its winnings for a farm-to-table project, said Feuz (pronounced “fights”). Talk has focused on buying tower gardens that would grow mostly vegetables to be served in the cafeteria.

Evan Strong – a Hawaiian native who lost his left leg at 17, after he was struck by a drunken driver – visited the school last month as part of the gold grand prize. He is Paralympic gold medalist and world champion in snow cross.

Q: How do you plan to use the grant?

We started talking about circle gardens. That would be outside, but they'd need to be tended to spring into summer. We’ve also looked into tower gardens. That wouldn't need any kind of summer tending. They would sit inside and are kind of self-sustaining. The idea is to grow mostly veggies to be used in the cafeteria – and build lesson plans around that. It definitely would be used district-wide. The tower gardens are about $2,000 each. We're anticipating one per grade level and we do have a self-contained class, so one more for those students. Then we can continue this for years to come.

Q: What was Evan Strong’s visit like?

“What a unique opportunity for my kids, a life-changing learning opportunity,” Principal Marcole Feuz said of the recent visit of Evan Strong to Colden Elementary School.

We had a video of him that was scrolling for about two weeks prior, to introduce the kids to him and get 'em hyped up. He started the day of his visit by greeting students at the door, high-fiving them, speaking with them. From there, we had a presentation and the Town of Colden proclaimed Oct. 24 as Evan Strong Day. Chosen students were able to have lunch with him and talk to him more about life.

When he left, I told him I was speechless, that it was one of the best days that I could have ever dreamed to offer our students. He was impactful. He was inspiring. He was able to relate to the kids through a presentation. He signed a copy of his picture for every kid. The older kids, in grades three through five, got to do some fitness drills with him …

We have students with special needs but none who have lost limbs. A guest student who lost both of his legs, a friend of a first-grade student, spent the day here. Evan talked to him and encouraged him and gave him his business card. He said, "Stay in touch with me."

Q: What was it like just watching that interaction?

Teary. He wanted to challenge Evan to hang on the bars.

Q: How many of your students have some sort of tie to agriculture?

Probably at least half of the kids. We also have a really neat farm that just started on Route 240 down by the Buffalo Ski Club. It's one of our families and they just started doing crop shares this year. It's Tioga Valley Farm. We've used that as an example. Eventually, the owners are going to come in and talk to the kids. We try to have career presenters across the year. Their son, Dominic, goes to our school.

We also use Cornell Cooperative Extension of Erie County for some class instruction; they provide some great opportunities at the fairgrounds that we take our kids to.

Veggie Van, tower gardens bring fresh produce to Lackawanna, Niagara Falls


Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottScanlon


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