Kids in Nutrition Organization Strives to Educate and Inspire

Sanda Zhao/Staff Photographer

Khaya Bhatia

When I was in elementary school, the extent of my learning experience included drawing and coloring books along with playing wallball on the playground. However, thanks to organizations like Kids In Nutrition (KIN), the elementary school students of today are learning much more valuable skills than coloring inside the lines.

In April 2014, Angela Shields, Michelle Nicolet and Leigh Rybak — three University of California, Santa Barbara students — founded the nonprofit health organization Kids in Nutrition (KIN). They originally started the club hoping to combat the rising rates of preventable diseases, and continue to promote and establish healthy behaviors for younger people.

They do this by creating an in-classroom dynamic between college students and elementary school students. College student volunteers have an interactive one-hour lesson plan over seven weeks teaching elementary school students crucial lessons about how to keep the human body healthy. KIN specifically focuses on six topics: water and sodium, fruits and vegetables, grains and proteins, sugars and nutrition labels. They end the last week with a game of jeopardy reviewing all topics.

“The way I see it is that our future generation won’t know how to fuel their bodies if they are never taught,” said fourth-year biopsychology major Nicolet. “This seven-week curriculum encompasses both what a healthy diet consists of and how to make those choices in their everyday lives.”

The first year of teaching included eight volunteer instructors and included three classrooms. Just two years later, KIN is involved in 19 elementary school classrooms in Santa Barbara County and has expanded to one classroom in Santa Cruz County. The club rapidly expanded from three founders, to seven volunteers, to now over 100 volunteers.

Throughout the past two years, KIN has had 200 UCSB student volunteers and has interacted with over 1,000 elementary school students. The founding chapter started at UCSB in 2014 and spread to UC Santa Cruz this quarter.

“By teaching with our program, we hope that our instructors — many of them aiming to be the future doctors and nurses of our country — learn that preemptive health care is an essential part of health care, and carry on this lesson throughout their careers,” said fourth-year biology major and earth science minor Stephanie Thorne, who is also a founding member of KIN and the director of development. “Most importantly, for our students, we hope that our program is just a start for them. We hope to empower and motivate them to lead healthy and active lives.”

KIN has grown immensely since it started in 2014. The organization has expanded internally by adding “KINcentive Program,” a take-home component to the organization.

This program encourages conversations between students and parents regarding relationships with food. The organization has expanded externally in five key ways: forming community connections, increasing outreach to the UCSB campus, creating a new chapter at UCSC, obtaining fiscal sponsorship and partnering with Cogeo to launch a campaign to further raise money for expansion.  

After starting a second chapter at UCSC this year, KIN hopes to continue growing by starting chapters at most University of California schools and eventually across the nation.