Harris' Heroes: Excel Academy uses global approach to learning

WASHINGTON (WJLA) – School leaders at Excel Academy, the first all-girls public charter school in the District, are taking on a special mission to encourage healthier lifestyles through a global approach.

Excel Academy students are used to getting their hands dirty in the school garden. This year, they also grew fruits and vegetables in personal kits called “Growums.”

“Sustainability is such an important part of culture today that the girls should learn it young, so that they can live that way,” said first-grade teacher Mindy Hirsch.

The school collaborated with the Kudawecha Primary School in the island of Aruba. The students there grew the same plants at the same time.

“They use different sources and different ways and different methods to grow their vegetables and their fruit and plants there,” said Lauren Hilliard, the elementary school dean of students.

Students from both schools Skyped with each other during the plant-growing process, and a select group of Excel students traveled to the Aruban school to share tips and compare cultures.

“Their language was different,” said 11-year-old Muminat Afolabi. “They speak Dutch, Spanish, Popiamento, English and Caribbean.”

“It was very different,” said 11-year-old Mikel Poole. “It got me a little bit out of my comfort zone, but it was very, very fun.”

Excel Academy Founder Kaye Savage says Anacostia and Aruba face similar issues when it comes to food.

“There is limited access to high-quality food, and you’re beginning to see problems around diabetes, obesity, hypertension,” she said.

Saveage hopes this project encourages the children to not only eat healthier, but also understand the importance of having access to high-quality fruits and vegetables. She is counting on the students to carry that message forward.

“It changed my life,” Poole said.

This is just the start of Excel Academy’s global well-being initiative. Besides the Aruban school, Excel is also partnering with a school in Ireland and working on connecting with one in the Netherlands as well.