|Oak Hill Students Grow Life Skills as Junior Master Gardeners|
Gardening at Oak Hill School in Tuscaloosa is not just a chance for the students to go outside, but a chance to learn how to take care of themselves and give back to their community. For the past 10 years, Ginger Nash has been taking the special needs class at Oak Hill School outside to garden. Amy Beck joined the faculty about three years ago and also participates in the gardening program. Nash describes her and Beck’s classes as transitional. These are students who will be aging out of the school system soon and have potential to have jobs when they graduate.
"Gardening is a life skill for these children. This is a chance for them to learn about nutrition as well as the ability to grow their own vegetables," Nash stated.
The outdoor classroom portion of Oak Hill School has three aspects: a greenhouse, pond and an in-ground garden. The greenhouse was built about six years ago after the school received some grant money.
The preparations for the sale begin early in the year. The students learn how to mix their potting soil by combining soil, peat moss, perlite and Osmocote. Throughout the year, they have lessons on propagation including division, cuttings and seeding. They nurture the plants until they are ready to sell. When the day of the sale comes, the children are so excited about showing off their hard work. They have priced the plants and they are responsible for collecting money and working the cash register.
The money they make from the sale goes back into the program to purchase supplies for the next year. Some of the other classes at Oak Hill School also take advantage of the greenhouse. The children with orthopedic disabilities use the greenhouse to work on their fine motor skills. Gardening is a great exercise for anyone who has issues with their fine motor skills. People begin to forget about their disabilities when they garden. Beck also mentioned many sensory learning lessons are taught in the greenhouse. This is an important learning concept for their special needs children.
Before the greenhouse was built, the school received a pond for kids grant and had a wonderful pond built in one of the school’s courtyards. The students, teachers, parents and volunteers all participated in building the pond. Now the students are responsible for the maintenance of the pond and fish as well as the garden surrounding the pond.
Nash emphasized how much pulling weeds can calm down a special needs child. She also mentioned many students with discipline issues can be calmed down by letting them spend some time in the pond garden. This area is very calming and relaxing to the students.
Recycling is the final part of the Junior Master Gardener program at Oak Hill School. This is the service learning component of their program. Recycle bins are located throughout the school and the students are responsible for emptying the bins and sorting the recyclables. The students also pick up from six businesses in the community as well as two individuals. After all of the items are sorted, it is time to take the items to be recycled. The students load their items on buses and take them to the recycling center. They do receive money for the aluminum cans and this money helps pay for special events the students have. They also save the pop tops from the cans and donate them to the local Ronald McDonald House.
"The recycling program really teaches the kids what it means to give back," Nash explained.
Next year Lauren Chapman, 4-H regional Extension agent, hopes to charter these two classrooms as 4-H clubs. This will allow them to belong to a club which is an opportunity these children are not often given.
Luci Davis is the State Junior Master Gardener Coordinator. For more information on the program, phone (334) 703-7509.