How Gardening Has Changed Health and Wellness at Harrison Hill School

This is part three of a three-part series to tell you about a unique elementary school, nestled in Lawrence: Harrison Hill School. This part of Lawrence is economically depressed, and its residents frequently struggle with poverty and the challenges that go with it. But Harrison Hill School is unusual as a community school: services that families need are accessible at the school (part 1), and School Community Liaison Neal Gore has developed an exceptionally robust family engagement program (part 2).  The third piece of this work is improving kids’ health by creating a healthy environment where making good nutrition choices are part of daily life.


Food access and poor nutrition are problems in the neighborhood, so School Community Liaison Neal Gore has incorporated several programs that address hunger and the need for nutritious food. To start, he built 20 raised garden beds where he leads the students through the planting and tending of the gardens. Neal also built a composting station near the gardens. The cafeteria composts all of the food it can, and children are taught what is compostable and have made composting an everyday habit. Uneaten food doesn’t go to waste either — On Mondays and Wednesdays, uneaten and unopened food is “rescued” and donated to local pantries for others to access.


Composting at Harrison Hill School


The school has also implemented food education programs that combine classroom time with tools to take home so that lessons learned can become part of a family’s daily habits. One program that has just wrapped up at the school was brought in by the Marion County Health Department. A professional from the Department worked with second and third graders to teach them about eating fruits and vegetables — tastings included!


Second graders also had the opportunity to take Cooking Matters class, which teaches young children the importance of cooking. Harrison Hill School also offers a Cooking Matters class for families, where families learn to prepare a meal in class and are then sent home with the recipe and a bag filled with the groceries needed to prepare the meal. For the most recent session, Neal reports that he had twice as many people sign up as they had space for — his programs are very, very popular.


Related: How you can fight for the health of all families in Central Indiana.


Harrison Hill School offers several programs to ensure kids have enough to eat when they’re not in school as well. They participate in the BackSack program, where kids can bring a backpack of food home on the weekends. In the summer, they offer Summer Servings where a mobile food truck serves lunch at the school. Neal says there’s a line of kids every time.

Teaching Garden at Harrison Hill School

This summer, Neal is conducting a garden club, where a Purdue master gardener will guest teach. The group is planting a special pizza garden in order to grow all of the ingredients needed to make pizza, including basil, tomatoes and peppers. The kids will also be sent home with starter plants and seeds so they can duplicate their efforts at home. By reinforcing teachings from school in the home, Neal is ensuring his students succeed with their new healthy habits.


Neal and Harrison Hill School are working very hard to meet the needs of their neighbors. As we mentioned in the first installment of this blog series, the community model for a school will be adopted by four additional schools in the Lawrence Township School system to begin in the 2018-2019 school year. Helping families establish good habits around nutrition and physical activity requires a holistic approach, and Harrison Hill School can be a model for other schools working toward the same goals.


Harrison Hill School is part of Jump IN’s community demonstration project that’s competing in the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge. Jump IN is very grateful to the many partners in Greater Lawrence and the Far Eastside that we’re working with and will continue to work with long after the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge is over. The work is important, and we are dedicated to helping all residents have access to living a healthy lifestyle so that we can reduce childhood obesity and the health problems associated with it.


More information about the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge can be found here. More information about Jump IN and our programs can be found at


Click the following links to read the first two segment in this series, What’s a Community School?  and Violins, Cooking, Hiking & More: Family Engagement Night at Harrison Hill School.


This article is part of Jump INside, a blog series featuring stories from Jump IN for Healthy Kids, a United Way of Central Indiana partner that focuses on reducing and preventing childhood obesity in Central Indiana. See all of the stories here