March 2, 2023
Burtonsville Elementary School Supports Wellness with Natural Beauty, Community, and Composting
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At Burtonsville Elementary School of Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), MD, nutrition and food access, family and community engagement, and staff well-being are inseparable. School staff and families have come together in leading campus beautification projects, food waste reduction initiatives, and stigma-free nutrition access for all.
And the result? “Oh, they love it!” says Vice Principal Terry Gobourne, who leads the beautification initiatives.
Community-driven programs have set Burtonsville apart as one of America’s Healthiest Schools. In October 2022, they received recognition in six topic areas, including Increasing Family & Community Engagement, sponsored by Kohl’s, and Cultivating Staff Well-Being, sponsored by Kaiser Permanente and Harmony SEL at National University. Burtonsville also received the 2022 MCPS Healthy Schools Award.
Beautifying Burtonsville Elementary
Ms. Gobourne says parents and caregivers have been some of the school’s most active health champions. When she shared an idea several years ago for a beautification committee to support school staff’s goals, Ms. Gobourne was amazed but not surprised at the response from the PTA. “We had parents, we had students, families coming out, cleaning up the grounds and things of that nature just to make the outside of our area and our school building a more beautiful place physically.”
Families helped the school connect with a local business that provided guidance and supplies for mulching the gardens, and they keep looking to the future. The PTA has contacted local nurseries and landscaping companies and has helped with writing grants to continue improving the garden. Both students and staff are already experiencing the benefits of safe and beautiful outdoor spaces.
Dipika “Bela” Desai planned the perennial garden planting during the beautification day with PTA member Mrs. Gueringer. She also planned Wellness Week activities with Katina Constant-Sane. She says, “When we observed Mental Health Awareness Week, I did yoga sessions outside for almost all the classes in the school, and as soon as I heard the mindful music playing on, and as soon as the kids came and sat down on the yoga mat, I could see their bodies kind of collapsing… It just connects you to that inner self that tells you to calm down automatically.” For Ms. Desai, these moments are just as rewarding as receiving national recognition. “When we see our students and staff being well, that is our award.”
“When we see our students and staff being well, that is our award.” – Dipika “Bela” Desai, Teacher and Wellness Coach
Nutritious Food for Everyone
To help reduce food waste by preserving uneaten meals, Burtonsville Elementary School received a donated refrigerator, so that “anybody who wants it, who needs it, can have it,” says Ms. Gobourne. In addition to having a free grab-and-go fridge, Burtonsville is a universal free-breakfast school. “That means that every student in our building receives free school breakfast. So there's no negative connotation. You don't walk in and say, ‘Oh, these kids get free breakfast.’ We all get free breakfast.”
Burtonsville is also one of nine schools in Montgomery County that hosts family markets to make nutritious foods more affordable and accessible. “All of our parents are welcome to come to the family market because, again, we don't want this to be something that people are being condescending or putting their noses down about. We're all community,” says Principal Kimberly Lloyd. “And so, everyone gets to go and access the family market. And I think that it is super cool when the staff members are here and they’re shopping at the family market, because kids always want to come in and see their teachers and staff members.”
"We’re all community.” – Principal Kimberly Lloyd
Composting and Community
The beautification committee also created a composting and food waste reduction initiative. Their tactics have shifted since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but efforts led by families and staff are still going strong. To start the composting program, school leaders partnered with food and nutrition services, a PTA representative, and a student from nearby Richard Montgomery High School. As of September 2022, Burtonsville Elementary School had composted nearly 600 pounds of food waste.
What’s Next, Burtonsville?
It’s no secret that Burtonsville is blazing trails in whole child health. “We like to be able to say that we are doing everything that we can to ensure that we are a healthy school and set that example for others,” says Ms. Gobourne.
Principal Lloyd is also ready for another year of excellence. “To be awarded one of America's Healthiest Schools is so amazing. We are very competitive. But I think that really, truly, the beauty of this is we're only going to get better... We've really stepped up our game this year, so if we won based on what we were doing before, we are looking to bring it home again next year, because we're just going to keep getting better and better and better.”
“We’re just going to keep getting better and better and better.” – Principal Kimberly Lloyd
Does your school support whole child and whole family health for students and staff? Learn more about applying for recognition as one of America’s Healthiest Schools!