There is just something special about spending time in a garden. Whether it is simply sitting and enjoying the surrounding beauty or getting our hands deep into the soil, all of our senses can be engaged and so many lessons can be learned.
Growing up in Chandler, as a child I was drawn to nature. My mother and my grandparents had beautiful gardens that I spent time in observing, helping, learning, and dreaming.
I now live in Gilbert and have been working as a high school special education teacher for Gilbert Public Schools for 16 years. I’m blessed to teach incredible young adults with intellectual and cognitive disabilities, and I feel fortunate to work for an “A” rated school district that offers innovative and creative programs that ensure all students are college and career ready. Three years ago I transferred to a Transition Program at Highland High School. Our unique transition programs focus on preparing our students with special needs the opportunity for meaningful employment, while also providing campus and community based experiences that foster increased independence. Our instructional activities focus on daily and adult living skills, home care and cooking, leisure and recreation, community access, social and communication skills, health and self-advocacy, and vocational skills. Gardening can engage students and be a tool to teach skills in each of these areas.
My classroom is designed to simulate an apartment setting, and outside of our portable is the most perfect space for a garden. As soon as I moved to Highland, I began envisioning my students gardening, seeing the endless possibilities that could come come from their experiences. I imagined them growing food that they could prepare for lunch, learning about nutrition and sustainability. I visualized them spending time together socializing in the garden area, taking a break to calm down and relieve stress, or pulling weeds and squeezing soil in their hands for needed sensory activities. I could see us working as a team to care for the garden, and the patience, responsibility and accomplishment they could gain. I brainstormed lists of vocational skills they could learn, occupational and physical therapy needs that could be met, and the movement and exercise they could experience all through gardening.
For the past three years I’ve continued to see the possibilities as I would look out our classroom door. Funding to start this type of project was the challenge, but at the end of this past school year I decided it was time to do more than just imagine. Not knowing what to expect, I reached out using social media, posting on two Facebook groups. The response I received was incredible and overwhelming. Individuals, families, groups, non-profits, and businesses all offered their support to make this dream a reality. With the generous support and donations of Blue Agave Landscape and a local Gilbert non-profit, Step Up USA, we plan to have our garden built, planted and thriving by the fall. To see the future progress of our garden, “LIKE” Step Up on Facebook!