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New Orleans School Gets a Fresh and Healthy Facelift

Kaiser Permanente volunteers make improvements to Einstein Charter School in New Orleans as part of Gulf Coast rebuilding effort

Last week, volunteers from Kaiser Permanente helped rebuild a charter school in New Orleans that was still feeling the effects of Hurricane Katrina, nearly ten years later. Volunteers made crucial improvements to the school that will encourage students to learn about healthy eating, as well as making their overall school environment warm and inviting.

Einstein Charter School took over two failing elementary schools in 2006 and 2013 and has become known for its role in seeding continuous gains in student achievement, particularly among students who are English language learners. The Einstein Extension campus, where the volunteers concentrated their work, remains housed in a grouping of 12 FEMA trailers, connected by wooden sidewalks.

Marsha Blachman, a volunteer from San Francisco, Calif., described the school as stark and “not a reflection of the great creativity and diversity of the student body.”

One aim of the upgrade was to make the school look more inviting and warm. For the front entrance of the school, the volunteers built brightly colored garden boxes to hold flowers, herbs and small trees.  They repainted the welcome and reception room to make it the bold and royal Einstein Owl blue!

Kaiser Permanente volunteers were tasked with creating a teaching garden and an outdoor teaching kitchen, with the aim of getting students involved in growing their own food and learning about healthy eating.

“It’s important for kids to be involved and invested in the process of growing their own fresh, healthy food and learning how to cook it,” said Nailah Thompson, MD, a Kaiser Permanente volunteer from Oakland, Calif. “The garden and kitchen will be fundamental spaces where teachers help to ingrain healthy habits in kids and make them proud of what they create.”

The teaching garden now includes kale, herbs and citrus trees, with more produce to come. Each garden box is also rigged with a rain catchment and irrigation system to allow the students to use the ever-present New Orleans rain to keep the gardens hydrated.

Other improvements to the campus included an overhaul of the recess play area with new mulch and shade structures, and the creation of a child-centric rain garden full of lush flowers and greenery.

All of these construction projects are part of the continued improvement of Einstein Charter School and will provide new opportunities for the school to encourage healthy eating and physical activity among the students.  And, the Kaiser Permanente volunteers will be able to savor the experience of playing a constructive role in helping these young people to thrive.

For more information on the Kaiser Permanente Gulf Coast Rebuild Project visit

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