Strategies to engage and sustain parents' participation

Strategies that contributed to the success in engaging parents in the nutrition of their children and families included a combination of participatory development approaches, capacity building of the key stakeholders (i.e. teachers and parents), and close collaboration with LGUs.

Participatory development approaches

Participatory development approaches facilitate the process where people can build their capacity towards self-management. Stakeholders are enabled to be actively involved in identifying and analyzing their problems, defining and refining strategies to address constraints and jointly make decisions to take action, and attaining agreed-upon goals and priorities (Chambers, 1994; Pretty et al., 1995) The teachers underwent participatory planning and coordinating workshops together with their school heads, school garden coordinators, and teachers-in-charge of school feeding and school canteen. They then gained confidence in using the same participatory approaches to engage the parents in school gardening and feeding.

Stepwise capacity building of key stakeholders

Initially, a series of capacity building activities for teachers and school heads promoted better understanding about sustainability concepts and inter-relationships of food and nutrition, cultivation of traditional lesser-known crops, organic agriculture, edible landscaping, climate change, and solid waste management. Combined with practical experience, they were able to prepare a total of 120 lesson plans integrating those concepts. Towards the end of S+HGP implementation, the teachers gained enough confidence to be able to adopt sister schools and pass on to them their knowledge and experiences in promoting the S+HGP, including how to mobilize parents, LGUs, village heads, and village councillors.

Building on existing parent-teacher associations (PTA)

The teachers built upon the long-established PTA in the Philippines. The teachers mobilized the PTA in every grade level and every partner school to focus on helping set up and maintain the school gardens to supply harvests to the SBFP. During school card giving days, teachers used the opportunity for one-on-one talks with parents not just about children’s school grades but informing them that academic performance is linked to their children’s nutritional status. Teachers encouraged parents to establish their own home gardens to provide nutritious food for their children beyond the 120 days school feeding. Parents learned that better nutrition and food supply translated to better health and academic performance of their children. Thus, many parents with or without malnourished children voluntarily gave their time and labour for the school gardens as well as in establishing their home gardens. Some of the pilot schools allotted areas inside their campuses to enable landless parents to do group gardening. The parents organized themselves and agreed on a schedule for them to take turns in tending the gardens. In one school, the parents formed themselves into the ‘Association of Parents with Gardens in the School’.

Extension services and supporting policies from government units

In order to support both the school gardens and parents’ home gardens, the LGUs, and village heads were invited to join the participatory planning workshops with the teachers. As a result, the Municipal Agriculture Office provided the schools and parents with garden inputs, some infrastructure, and extension services usually allocated for farmers only. As the S+HGP gained momentum, the Department of Agriculture Regional Field Office - Organic Agriculture Program also included the schools in their list of beneficiaries of vermicomposting facilities, shredding machines, and greenhouses. Other LGU offices such as the Municipal Nutrition Action Office (MNAO), the Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office (MSWDO), and some Municipal/City Nutrition Councils also joined in. Existing school programmes of the Department of Health such as vitamin-mineral supplementation and deworming continued to complement the feeding programmes. The local school board of each of the municipalities where the pilot schools were located also provided financial support and inputs. Some village chiefs and village council members crafted village ordinances to strengthen the implementation of school policies. Some of these ordinances were even adopted at the Municipal Council level.

Contests, awards, and recognition

School-organized contests for best school gardens, best home gardens, parent-child cooking contests, and other similar activities promoted friendly competition, fun, and camaraderie among parents, children, and school teachers. During the end-of-school year closing programmes, outstanding parents who helped in the school programmes (particularly in the school gardens and feeding programmes) took pride in receiving recognition certificates. Both parents and teachers were further inspired to give their best when awards and recognition were given by the Municipal and Provincial government units. There was much more encouragement when the S+HGP received awards from a national civic group (Philippine Agriculture and Resources Research Foundation, Inc. [PARRFI] R&D Award: Development Category, 2018) and when one of the partner schools received international awards (SEAMEO-Japan Education for Sustainable Development Award, 2017 [3rJ place] and the 2018 SEAMEO-RECFON Partnership in Nutrition Program Award [Best Partnership of Policy Commitment]).

Project accomplishments in improving children's access to food and nutrition

Nutritional gains among undernourished children

Comparison of the baseline and end line nutritional status assessments indicated significant increases in the height, weight, and body mass index (BMI) of students in the pilot elementary and secondary schools. Also, significant increase in knowledge was observed in the vegetables familiarity test, nutrient contents test (types of nutrients contained in vegetables and food group functions (Go, Grow, Glow foods). The schoolchildren likewise appreciated the benefits and importance of eating organic vegetables daily. There was a significant increase in the dietary diversity score of students, which implies that the higher the diversity of food intake, the better the quality of the diet.

Expanded coverage of the SBFP

Because of the improved supply of fresh vegetables from the school and home gardens, all the partner schools were able to complete the required 120-day SBFP. In some schools the SBFP was extended to 20 more days because of the continued availability of vegetables. With the extra harvests from the school gardens there was enough food for all children, and not necessarily only the undernourished children. Students who helped in harvesting vegetables and washing kitchen utensils were allowed to partake some of the food. In another school, ‘non-reader’ students were allowed to receive food as an incentive for them to attend remedial classes. School feeding coordinators also gave schoolchildren extra fresh or cooked vegetable meals to bring home to their families.

Extending school gardening to home gardening

The gardening-feeding linkage and active participation of teachers, parents, and other stakeholders contributed to food security in the undernourished children’s homes particularly after the 120-day SBFP ended. By establishing home gardens, there was a greater chance of children being served some nutritious food in their homes for the remaining days of the year not covered by the SBFP. This also instilled among parents a greater sense of responsibility to be involved in ensuring good food and nutrition for their children.

Two of the six pilot schools directly assisted some parents in establishing and maintaining home gardens. Their workshop participated in by 40 households resulted in nine households immediately establishing their own gardens and applying the techniques they learned about organic vegetable production and edible landscaping. To support these households, the school regularly provided them with seeds saved from the school garden. Regular household visitations and consultations were conducted by the teachers. The school recorded more households inquiring about home gardens. Some households near the schools also requested to be invited to the school gardening training. In another school, through a joint initiative with their Municipal Agriculture Office (MAO), parents of undernourished children underwent training on organic agriculture.

School savings and income generation

About 45.5% of the school garden harvests were used for the 120-day SBFP for undernourished children. This translated to savings for the SBFP. About 19% were shared with students or parents who helped in gardening. Some 10% were used for classes in cooking and food preservation and processing. The remaining 17% was sold in the school canteens, thus providing it some income. About 8% of harvested food was damaged by pests, and this was given to livestock or composted.

Educational aspects of school gardens

Teachers, children, and parents now have better appreciation of the school garden and the feeding programme as they see the linkage between what they plant in the garden and food they can harvest and eat later. This observation indicates the importance of not only showing vegetables during the nutrition education classes or cooking classes but also undergoing the chain of activities involved between food production and consumption. Additionally, the school gardens were living laboratories for experiential learning about Science, Math, English, and Flome Economics (Calub et al., 2018). Teachers prepared lessons plans that integrated the concepts of organic agriculture (including topics on agrobiodiversity and environmental sustainability), edible landscaping, solid waste management, and climate change. Both the school and home gardens gave children and parents some opportunities to learn business skills and entrepreneurship. Teachers, parents, children, and school guests also appreciated the edible landscaping of the school gardens.

They liked spending time in the garden taking ‘selfies’ for sharing in social media. Overall these contribute to increasing the youth’s interest in agriculture.

Project outcomes enhanced by parent engagement in S+HGP

Assured supply of nutritious vegetables from the school and home gardens

As a key component under the S+HGP, teachers-in-charge of the feeding programmes and the school gardening programme were encouraged to coordinate closely with each other. Teacher coordinators of the feeding programme planned their menu and prepared meals based on the available vegetables harvested from their school gardens. The school garden teachers were encouraged to plant highly nutritious vegetables that were needed for the feeding programme. They were taught to prepare crop planting calendars where a large array of annual and perennial crops were planted and timed so that they can be harvested at different periods of the year (Table 9.2).

Many parents appreciated the crop planting calendar and applied it in their home gardens. This enabled them to produce vegetables year-round and ensure the availability of vegetables for their families.

Diet diversity through garden diversity

Where there used to be 1-2 crop species only, most of the school and home gardens now have 10-20 species of vegetables, like ‘kulitis’ (Amamnthus spittosus); root crops, like camote (Ipomoea batatas) for tubers and young leaves; semi-perennial legumes, like pigeon pea, Cajanus cajan), and winged bean (Psophocarpus tetragonolobus); tree vegetables, like malunggay (.Moringa oleifera); shrubs, like lagikway (Abelmoschus tnani- hot), saluyot (Corchorus olitorius), and ‘talinum’ (Talinum paniculatum); and small-sized fruit trees, like guava, papaya, banana, and calamansi (Citrus microcarpa), an indigenous local citrus rich in vitamin C and A. The diversity in the crops planted and integration of perennial crops ensured diversity of the family’s diet and year-round supply of nutritious food for the family. Some parents and teachers brought and exchanged seeds and planting materials as well as cooking techniques. This revived the interest and knowledge on lesser-known traditional but nutritious vegetables.

Reduced number of repeaters in the school feeding programme

Repeaters refer to students who participated in the SBFP, gained normal weight after the 120-day feeding period but became wasted again during the school break that in the next school year they were re-enrolled in the SBFP. The percentage of the SBFP repeaters in two of the 5 partner elementary schools (B and C) considerably decreased by the end of the S+HGP implementation and even one year after the S+HGP ended (Figure 9.2). These were the schools where parents have established

Trends in the percentage of SBFP repeaters among partner schools from school years 2016—2019

FIGURE 9.2 Trends in the percentage of SBFP repeaters among partner schools from school years 2016—2019.

Source: Original survey data of this paper.

their home gardens in 2016-2017 (S+HGP started) and continued until 2018—2019 (18 months after S+HC.P ended). More parents got involved in home gardening in the succeeding years, thus the continued reduction in the number of repeaters.

In schools A and D, there was an increase in the number of repeaters in 2017-2018 (S+HGP ended). The teachers claimed that initially they focussed more on the school garden development. Later when they extended gardening to the homes the number of repeaters dropped considerably in the next school year. Meanwhile, School E is a big school in an urban area with the highest number of SBFP participants. Most parents were not able to establish home gardens due to no or very limited space to establish gardens. Other parents were preoccupied working for daily wages. For these urbanizing areas, container and vertical gardening are options, but it is also important to provide other supporting interventions so that parents can still be actively engaged in the nutrition of their children.

Improving children's consumption of vegetables

Among undernourished children, 85% continued to eat vegetables with an additional 8% who have learned to eat vegetables in their homes (Table 9.2). A previous SBFP beneficiary in 2016 claimed that he has now gained weight and is taller because he regularly eats vegetables cooked at home. As a child he did not like the taste of vegetables. Now he has learned to like them when he learned about the nutrients they contain. On the other hand, 6% of children used to eat vegetables, but at the time of survey, they did so rarely because their mothers were not always able to serve them in their meals. A remaining 1% still did not eat vegetables.

Benefits realized and challenges encountered

Parents realized that while they were actively involved in sustaining the nutritional gains of their children, they also gained social, personal, family, economic, and environmental benefits from their home gardens (Table 9.3).

TABLE 9.2 Changes in vegetable consumption among

households of undernourished students from the start to the end of the project

Indicators

Changes from pre-assessment to post-assessment (after 14 months)

11

%

Children eating vegetable Yes to Yes

123

85

No to Yes

12

8

Yes to No

8

6

No to No

2

1

Source: Calub et al. (2017).

TABLE 9.3 Feedback from parents about benefits derived from and challenges faced in participating in school gardens and having their own home gardens

Benefits

Challenges

Social

  • • Sharing of harvested vegetables to family, neighbours, friends, and relatives (74.3%)
  • • Met other parents, gained friends, and became closer to neighbours (8.6%)
  • • Showed kindness to others by sharing seeds/planting materials (8.6%)
  • • Able to set an example of doing good deeds for others (8.6%)
  • • Some stray animals from farms eat our crops
  • • Some people preharvest our crops

Personal

  • • Realized that gardening as a form of exercise is good for their health, garden as a source of safe food, children gained normal weight and seldom got sick (38.3%)
  • • Have positive feelings of happiness, accomplishment and sense of fulfilment, garden work is tiresome but worth the effort, receiving compliments from others and being recognized in the community, happy to teach others about gardening, enable production of own organic fertilizers and seeds, desire to expand home gardens (31.9%).
  • • Gardening as stress reliever, provides mental relaxation, keeps us busy and is a productive pastime (29.8%).
  • • Requires diligence to work in the garden
  • • We lack time to expand our garden because we have other work to do.
  • • There were parents who were not much concerned with their children’s food because they said anyway the school will feed them.

(Continued)

Family

  • • Gardening strengthened family bonding, now a family hobby, family members work together and share the meal from their harvests. We feel assured to feed our family year-round with safe, clean, organic, and nutritious food (35.9%).
  • • Children learned gardening, enjoying and being of help in the family. Gardens educate children better than being hooked to computer games (28.2%).
  • • Whole family feels healthy with improved appetite for vegetables harvested from the garden and cooked at home (20.5%).
  • • Children learned to eat vegetables more easily when they see other family members also eating vegetables; children now ask for vegetable dishes (15.4%).
  • • Some children take time to learn or have not really learned to eat vegetables
  • • Some children like to eat vegetables but some parents do not cook them for family meals. Some parents do not eat vegetables.

Economic

Environmental

  • • Provides savings on food purchases, we rarely buy vegetables (62.7%)
  • • Provides additional income opportunity from the sale of extra harvests. Establishing gardens is not costly, requires minimal purchase of inputs because we can make our own organic fertilizers and produce own seeds, especially of traditional crops (33.3%)
  • • Income from gardens was used for payment of some school needs (3.9%)
  • • Fresh air, no pollution, no pesticide spraying, thus better for our health (50.0%)
  • • Conscious not to throw garbage anywhere, learned recycling and composting, kept surroundings clean (26.3%)
  • • The landscaped gardens are attractive, encouraged children to go to the garden, children take ‘selfies’ in the garden. (23.7%)
  • • The beautiful school gardens enticed parents to establish their home gardens to promote year-round supply of vegetables which they don’t have to buy.
  • • Some pests and rats damage our plants, resulting in low yields
  • • Where can we sell our harvests if we produce more?
  • • We have low entrepreneurial skills
  • • Limited space for garden expansion
  • • Flooding
  • • Heavy rains submerge our plots
  • • We cannot plant during the dry season due to lack of water and strong sun.

Source: Original survey data of this paper.

Some challenges met were also expressed by the parents. Among the challenges mentioned by the parents, climate change manifestations (flooding, heavy rains, and drought tendency) and pest damage are the biggest threats to agricultural production and thus to food security. Marketing systems can open opportunities for households who can expand their home gardens for income generation. For families with limited or no access to land, technologies on container and vertical gardening can be considered. Strategies to overcome all these challenges will require at least start-up support for investments in protected agriculture structures.

Conclusions

The SEARCA-UPLB-DepEd Laguna S+HGP demonstrates a strategy where schools and parents were mobilized and engaged in school and home gardening towards food security and improved nutrition. It strengthened the coordinated implementation of two existing nation-wide programmes of DepEd, the school gardens programme and the SBFP for undernourished children. In addition to the school’s efforts the need for greater parent engagement was emphasized. Activities were initiated for values and skills strengthening so that parents gained a greater sense of responsibility in ensuring nutritious food for their children through year-round production of vegetables from the school gardens and from their home gardens. Factors that contributed to successfully engaging parents included regular joint parent-teacher consultations; participatory planning; implementation and monitoring; hands-on training and seminars; parent-child tandem cooking contests using vegetables harvested from the school gardens; and close collaboration with the local government units in providing garden inputs, services, and supporting policies.

This approach is key to the currently continuing scaling up from the 6 original and 2 adopted partner schools to 46 adopted sister schools. While initially intended only for parents of undernourished children many other parents have joined in tending the school gardens and have also established their home gardens. Parents have come to realize that in actively sustaining the nutrition of their children they also gained additional social, personal, family, economic, and environmental benefits by having school and home gardens.

The S+HGP is flexible; thus, other schools would be able to adapt and tailor it into their localities. Interventions need not be totally new but can build upon existing school institutions: for example the PTA. It is also important to encourage the participation of LGUs and village institutions for their vital support and services in order to sustain the school and home gardens.

Through participatory engagement among teachers, parents, and LGUs, our children’s and their families’ food and nutrition, education, health, and economic well-being can be uplifted. This process is a first step in increasing and sustaining the availability of vegetables in children’s homes and schools and in scaling up towards inclusive and sustainable community development that addresses food and nutrition security and poverty reduction in the Philippines and elsewhere.

Acknowledgements

Acknowledgement is expressed to the Asian Development Bank and the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction through SEAMEO College for initial funding, SEARCA for continued fund support and overall coordination, UPLB for technical expertise and assistance, DepEd Division of Laguna, Education Program Supervisor (Mr Lamberto Perolina) for schools coordination, all the participating pilot school heads, teachers, parents, children, and LGUs, and SEARCA Staff' (R. B. Lapitan, E. G. C. Sencida, X. G. B. Capina, D. B. N. Malayang, L. A. M. Carandang, M. H. D Teve), UPLB staff' (H. E. Carandang), University of California Santa Cruz graduate student S. Chiang, and UN University graduate student E. I. N. E. Galang for field survey assistance.

Note

1 A child is considered severely wasted when his or her body weight is below three standard deviations from the median weight-for-height or is considered wasted when the child’s weight-for-height is lower than two standard deviations from the growth standard. The DepEd uses the World Health Organization (WHO) weight-for-age tables for pre-primary schoolchildren aged 5 years old and below, and the WHO body mass index-for-age tables from pre-primary, primary, and secondary students aged 6-19 years old in determining the nutrition status.

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