Section: Clara Maass Medical Center News

Students, Master Gardeners Plant Vegetables Through Clara Maass Medical Center Foundation Lifeline Challenge to Healthy Living Program


Bloomfield, NJ – They planted marigolds, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers and string beans and took them home to grow into seedlings and eventually into vegetables they will harvest.

Third and fourth-graders at the Carteret Elementary School in Bloomfield got a hands-on lesson about nutrition and horticulture this spring with the help of the Essex County Master Gardeners, through the Lifeline Challenge To Healthy Living Program sponsored by Clara Maass Medical Center Foundation.

“They see where fruits and vegetables come from and have more of a respect for the food,” explained Melody Colacino-DeGaetano, a MS, RD, pediatric dietician, who described a Lifeline student pulling a home grown carrot from her kitchen garden last year and eating it on the spot. “This is lots of fun for them. They get to play in dirt without getting in trouble.”

“Year after year, students in the Lifeline Challenge To Healthy Living Program learn important lessons in fitness, nutrition and lifestyle skills that will benefit them the rest of their lives,” said Jane Kessler, vice president of Clara Maass Medical Center Foundation. “We’re glad to partner with the Essex County Master Gardeners to bring this informative and enjoyable lesson to them.”

Essex County Master Gardeners joined the Lifeline Challenge To Healthy Living staff at elementary schools in Bloomfield, Belleville and Montclair this spring to plant the seed gardens. The students also met with the gardeners to transplant their seedlings into bigger containers.

“I want them to have the experience of growing and the responsibility of taking care of this,” said Fran Kroeckel, a master gardener and retired teacher, who led the after school lesson. “There are kids who have never done anything like this before.”

Using simple plastic containers, the students moistened the soil then chose and planted four different seeds in the container. Then they took the containers home to watch the seeds grow.

“It’s going to be very fun and interesting because it’s the first time I’m planting it myself,” said Jordan Daniels, 10.

Melina Hidalgo, 10, also participated, “I like flowers and my sister likes tomatoes. It’s going to be fun.”

After planting the seeds, the students listened to Kroeckel explain how to care for their small garden and encouraged them to bring it back in a few weeks to replant the seedlings into larger containers.
“I’m going to water it. I think it’s going to grow,” said Safiya Alexander, 9. “I’m going to put it in my kitchen window.”

Students in the year-long after school Lifeline Challenge Program enjoy learning a number of healthy topics besides gardening and planting vegetables. They study nutrition, healthy food choices, how to read a food label and participate in various exercise programs – including dancing, relay races and martial arts.

Lifeline Challenge To Healthy Living Program
Lifeline Challenge To Healthy Living is a partnership between Clara Maass Medical Center and local elementary schools. Through the partnership, after school nutrition and physical fitness programs are conducted for students in 3rd and 4th grades with the goal of eliminating and preventing childhood obesity. Through fun interactive lessons and activities, students learn how to make healthy food and beverage choices and how to incorporate exercise into their daily routines. The program is offered to schools at no charge to students and the school district. Lifeline Challenge is currently being conducted in 14 local elementary schools in Belleville, Bloomfield, Harrison, Lyndhurst, Kearny, Montclair, North Arlington, North Newark and Nutley, NJ. Participating schools include: School #3, School #8, School #10 in Belleville, Berkeley, Carteret and Watsessing Schools in Bloomfield, Lincoln and Hamilton Schools in Harrison, Washington Elementary in Lyndhurst, Washington Elementary in Kearny, Bullock School in Montclair, Washington Elementary in Nutley and Branch Brook School in Newark.

The Lifeline Challenge program includes:

  • Weekly interactive nutrition education and fitness classes conducted jointly by Clara Maass Medical Center’s Registered Dieticians in conjunction with the school’s physical fitness instructor.
  • Classes held from 3:30-5:00 p.m. one day per week in the school gymnasium
  • Special visits from guest chefs, master gardeners, yoga and dance teachers and local firefighters, our “healthy living” ambassadors.
  • Participating students receive binders with nutrition and exercise information; Myplate, USDA’s primary food group icon, will be utilized to remind students to build a healthy plate at mealtime.
  • Healthy snacks such as granola bars, fruit, edame and yogurt are provided at the classes.

Located in Belleville, NJ, Clara Maass Medical Center, a Barnabas Health facility, provides a complete continuum of care to residents of northern New Jersey. Clara Maass’ centers and services include The Health and Wellness Center, Nuclear Medicine, The Cancer Center at Clara Maass, Adult Cardiac Services including Diagnostic Services, Cardiac Catheterization, Elective and Emergency Angioplasty and Rehabilitation, The Pain Management Center, The Joint & Spine Institute, a Vascular Center, Same Day Surgery, The Wound Center at Clara Maass, The Center for Sleep Disorders, The Bariatric Surgery Center, Rehabilitation Services, The Eye Surgery Center, Maternity Services and Parent Education, as well as Pediatrics. For a physician referral or more information about Clara Maass, call 1-888-724-7123 or visit

For information about Lifeline Challenge to Healthy Living, or, to make a donation, call Marcia Fusilli, Clara Maass Foundation Director of Development, at 973-450-2368 or go to

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Date: May 30, 2013

Contact: Elizabeth Moore
Director of Public Relations

Categories: Children's,Press Releases,Wellness