Astellas USA Foundation Donates to GrowingGreat for Garden Education Programs

Inner-city school children inspired by new STEM curriculum
Jun 29, 2017 6:30 PM ET

“Tomate,” said Alejandro, adjusting the lab goggles on his head as he examined the food in front of him. The tomato was actually an apricot, a fruit he had never seen until that day. But Alejandro* wasn’t told he was wrong, because he was mostly right. He was thinking like a scientist – classifying and participating in scientific inquiry, even though the question was asked in English and he speaks primarily Spanish. “Yes, Alejandro, it is very much like a tomato,” said the GrowingGreat educator. “It’s a fruit called an apricot. Let’s open it up and see what’s inside.”

Alejandro is four years old and lives in Hollywood, Calif., in a neighborhood where fruits and vegetables are rare. On this day at his Para Los Niños Head Start preschool, he experienced one of GrowingGreat’s hands-on science, garden, nutrition and literacy programs, funded by Astellas USA Foundation.

Last month, Astellas USA Foundation Lead and Corporate Secretary Robin Andrews attended the celebration of the new Astellas STEM garden and GrowingGreat curriculum at the Hollywood location of Para Los Niños Head Start school. GrowingGreat, an organization that provides STEM experiences to inspire students to become scientists, engineers, farmers and chefs, partners with Para Los Niños to help introduce their students to this level of education. Together, they serve 1,400 inner-city young students, siblings and families in neighborhoods where the average household income is $16,607.

As part of the Science WoRx program, Astellas USA Foundation provided funding to GrowingGreat to support their “From Bean Seeds to Frijoles: STEM Learning Begins” program and donated additional funds to support three garden education programs in the Los Angeles area, with locations at Gratts Primary Center and Para Los Niños Head Start preschools in the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Hollywood and Atwater Village. The goal of the learning gardens is to bring STEM exploration to life with hands-on activities, while teaching urban gardening skills to early learners.

This passion for science through hands-on STEM discovery is part of Astellas USA Foundation’s Science WoRx program that supports underserved communities across the country. By targeting efforts to empower young children, the Foundation is introducing them early on to science-based garden and nutrition education.

Activities last month included a dedication ceremony and opening of the Astellas STEM Garden. Festivities concluded with the students releasing dozens of ladybugs throughout the garden, which they learned will help keep their garden safe from the plant-eating bugs.

At the event, Science WoRx mentors Drs. Kendall and Karen Morrison shared how they became scientists and explained what they currently do. They then led the students through a “Seed Sleuths” activity. The children explored the seed content of strawberries, avocadoes, apricots, and more, making their own hypotheses, and counting the number of seeds in each.

The Science WoRx mentor program connects scientists from Astellas and its affiliates with Foundation partner organizations to serve as mentors in communities that need it most.

“Research shows that combining hands-on science with guided play is an effective learning technique for young children,” said Moyra Knight, Astellas USA Foundation president. “Guided play can help children develop early math skills, form social relationships and strengthen word learning. Supporting these experiences is a critical foundation to establish a life-long love of both education and science.”

“We are thankful for Astellas USA Foundation’s support over the years to help us bring science and nutrition education to children in low-income communities,” said Jennifer Jovanovic, GrowingGreat Executive Director. “Together, we’re introducing children to healthy lifestyles and choices.”

*Names have been changed to protect privacy