TCU Nursing Faculty Promotes Food, Environmental Health Literacy


Acting on years of screening data, Gina Alexander saw a need for obesity prevention and used service learning to take action.

Service learning engages students not only in their respective disciplines, but also in the examination of their roles as future leaders. Faculty partner with local leaders to design service projects that enhance learning and meet the needs of our community. In other words, it is truly a win-win.

Alexander, associate professor of nursing, shares about their unique service-learning endeavor.

Gina Alexander

Gina Alexander, associate professor of nursing in TCU’s Harris College of Nursing and Health Sciences. 2017 faculty/staff portrait by B.J. Lacasse

Tell us about your service-learning endeavor and how you have incorporated it into your course? What kind of activities were you and your students involved in during the project?

TCU Nursing has partnered with Morningside Elementary and other health professions students for several years to complete health screenings in an interprofessional format. Students enrolled in the pediatric nursing clinical course participate in these screenings. Years of longitudinal screening data highlighted the need for obesity prevention efforts.

In the fall of 2019, students enrolled in the public health nursing clinical course began to focus on garden-based intervention at the request of the Morningside Elementary principal and the school’s garden committee. Each semester since then, the nursing student teams have organized garden work days to prepare the 20-plus raised bed gardens for seasonal planting and harvest. In addition, the nursing students have worked with the teachers/staff to create systems to maintain the garden and integrate garden-based learning into the curriculum.

Early in the pandemic, when many of our clinical sites were not available for in-person learning experiences for our students, the public health nursing student teams were able to create garden videos for the Morningside students to use in their classrooms and at home. In the spring of 2021, we mobilized a partnership with the Blue Zones initiative and their lead gardener. In the fall of 2021 and spring of 2022, the nursing student teams collaborated with the garden committee and Blue Zones to create an after-school garden club for students and their families. The garden is starting to flourish again, and the Morningside community will soon be harvesting a bountiful crop.

What community need is your course/initiative aiming to fill?

The public health nursing clinical course is focused on a service-learning, capacity building framework for health promotion and disease prevention. In southeast Fort Worth, notable disparities in access to food and access to green space/nature are evident, and our long-term partnership with Morningside Elementary was the foundation for targeted education and advocacy efforts to promote food literacy and environmental health literacy.

In the fall of 2020, public health nursing clinical students also began to audit local recreational parks in a 3-mile radius of Morningside to assess park quality, safety and amenities, using the CDC-National Park Services guideline.

By the spring of 2022, a total of 50 audits had been completed, and a student team analyzed the audit data and presented the primary findings to the Park and Recreation Department’s Advisory Board.

Can you share any outcomes from your project? Consider your students, the community, as well as your own experience.

TCU Nursing student teams plan short- and long-term objectives, with progress occurring steadily over time. In the fall of 2019, the nursing student team implemented in-person gardening lessons to over 300 Morningside students across grade levels, using the Junior Master Gardener Learn Grow Eat Go! curriculum. They worked closely with the Morningside garden committee, Tarrant Area Food Bank community garden staff and Agrilife Extension agents. Through each surge of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, nursing student teams continued to organize outdoor garden work days for the school community and also created multiple gardening videos for Morningside students to use. In the fall of 2021, the nursing student team worked with the Blue Zones gardener to design gardening lessons to over 100 Head Start, pre-K and kindergarten students.

In the Spring of 2022, the nursing student team implemented an after-school garden club, which grew to over 15 family members at each event. Meanwhile, another nursing student team completed analysis of park auditing of District 8 parks, including Historic Southside parks, and presented to the Fort Worth PARD Advisory Board.

What is next for your service learning? 

We will continue to partner with Morningside Elementary and the Blue Zones gardener to promote food literacy and nutrition education. We will also work with parks and rec and non-profit organizations in the Southside community to promote equitable access to nature, green space, environmental education and climate safe neighborhoods. These efforts are all part of the RxPLORE™ initiative, in which I work with Vicki Brooks and Tammie Williams, both assistant professors of professional practice, and the Kids Environmental Education Network group.

For information on incorporating service learning into course curriculum, contact Rosangela Boyd, director of service learning and academic initiatives.