Shrewsbury preschoolers get a head start on healthy living
By Nance Ebert, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – First Lady Michelle Obama’s push for a healthier generation has really caught on over the last few years. However, she has some competition with Kristin Stewich, nurse at Shrewsbury’s Parker Road Preschool, whose passion and energy have inspired a school garden and united volunteers to work toward one healthful, common goal. She even has three- and four-year-olds talking about kale.
Stewich was a nurse for 25 years at a Boston hospital before moving to Shrewsbury with her husband and two teenagers. After a short time as a substitute nurse, she worked part-time in the middle school. Last year, a full-time position opened up at Parker Road and she dove right in.
“Being a school nurse was a perfect fit for me and my family,” Stewich said. “While I loved working with middle school students, I have fallen in love with these little ones. You just don’t get over how cute they are and how much they absorb each day.”
In her personal life, Stewich loves to eat healthy and exercise. She has run the Boston Marathon six times and plans on running again this year in memory of The Krystle Campbell Memorial Fund.
While at the middle school, she helped get the students involved in the President’s Challenge, in which students learned about the importance of exercise and nutrition. After trying to come up with a way to bring her passion to Parker Road, an opportunity presented itself last year. Stewich applied for and received a grant from the Shrewsbury Education Foundation.
“Not that I’m a gardener at home,” she explained. “But I thought it would be great to start one here at the school. This way, the children could learn, hands-on, about how to grow healthy vegetables.”
Stewich and the students are calling it “Taking Root at Parker Road.”
“We have enlisted the help of Home Depot, who have been amazing,” she said. “David Bottom, Chris Tighe, manager of the garden department, and Scott Selmacki have been very kind and generous of their time and expertise.”
Home Depot of Shrewsbury has been most instrumental in helping this project come to life. They built workshops for each classroom as well as the raised beds outside. Employee David Bottom, a retired teacher, comes to the school to volunteer and teaches the kids about planting seeds. Dom Ruggiere is a parent volunteer that has also been integral in the success of the garden. The money from the grant was used to purchase educational materials.
The garden has supplied Swiss chard, peas, tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, peppers and other produce. The classrooms rotate taking care of the plants and incorporate their garden delights into their daily snack when they are ready to be picked.
Shrewsbury Health & Racquet Club (SHARC) also became involved and has visited the classrooms at Parker Road, introducing a healthy eating and exercise program.
“We have gotten such positive feedback and have heard many stories of the children trying new vegetables at home,” Stewich said. “This year we plan on expanding the garden. The snack program has changed as a result and fresh fruits, whole grains and vegetables have been incorporated.”
Stewich hopes by starting to learn good habits early, the students at Parker Road will keep making positive choices as they grow up.
“Good nutrition is so important to learning and the development of the brain, especially at this age before opinions of food are formed,” she said. “I feel good about what has transpired here.”
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