Burzette-DeLeon steps out of her comfort zone, becomes a public health 'Champion.'

    Healthy children learn better – that’s a fact.  Research has found that students’ health affects their grades, attendance, behavior and whether they graduate.

    We also know that education is one of the many social determinants that influence a person’s health throughout the life span.   Fortunately, public health and education systems have a long and successful history of working together to keep students safe and teach them healthy habits.

    Local evidence of partnerships between Polk County Public Health and school districts can be found all throughout our county. 

    Simply ask Brigette Burzette-DeLeon, teacher at Washington Elementary School in Crookston about the benefits of such shared partnerships. 

    “A few years ago I was researching grants to assist us in buying cheaper and healthier snacks at school.  Co-worker Karen Brekken informed me about funding through the State Health Improvement (SHIP) Program at Polk County Public Health.  I checked it out and learned about possible funding and that some schools across Minnesota using funding to plant gardens-you know to grow their own food.  I had to laugh because I can’t even keep a houseplant alive let alone plant an entire garden,” reported Burzette-DeLeon.

    Fortunately for Crookston school children, Burzette-DeLeon stepped out of her comfort zone and applied for and received SHIP funding.  That first summer Burzette-DeLeon along with a group of K-4th grade children planted carrots, green beans and corn.  “It was really amazing to watch kids’ plant seeds.  It only took us about two hours to complete”, commented Burzette-DeLeon.

    The garden has now become a community project as word spreads about its success and needs.  Recently, a group of local Girl Scouts acquired barrels from Coke-A-Cola, which, after decorating them, were used as rain barrels.  Students and staff from the University of Minnesota-Crookston built a shed to store tools and other supplies.  As well, individuals and organizations from Crookston have donated money and supplies to help support the garden.

    “An interesting outcome of all this is now some families are planting their own gardens too, because their children had fun with the school garden”, noted Burzette-DeLeon.  “The fun of watching children plant the seeds, water and weed the garden is great, but nothing compares to the look on a child’s face after pulling a carrot from the earth for the very first time”, smiled Burzette-DeLeon.

       Thanks to the efforts of Burzette-DeLeon and her partnership with Polk County Public Health, local school children are gaining knowledge of and learning how to plant and care for gardens. 

    “And you know,” adds Burzette-DeLeon, the kids are using positive peer pressure as ways of encouraging each other to taste different foods”.

    Polk County Public Health salutes Brigette Burzette-DeLeon for her efforts in creating healthier schools by building sustainable community partnerships. If anyone is interested in donating supplies or money to continue the garden, contact Brigette Burzette-DeLeon at 281-2762.