WUFT News

Gardening Program Provides Opportunity For Students With Disabilities

By on October 29th, 2014

Arthur Seabrooks has done away with more than just textbooks since switching schools this year. The 17-year-old has lost almost 50 pounds.

He is one of three full-time students currently enrolled in Loften High School’s new Growing Education Training (GET) program, which caters to students with disabilities who have trouble learning in a traditional classroom setting and are on special diploma track, according to Alachua County transitions specialist David Baines.

Through the program, Seabrooks participates in intensive outdoor gardening activities, which have introduced him to an active lifestyle of clean eating and provided some job-skills. More than a dozen other students from Florida’s exceptional student education (ESE) program visit the site weekly for community-based job training. 

“Most of the kids that we have want to work,” Baines said. “They want to feel like they’re part of society.”

The GET program gives them that chance, he said. 

It also offers a unique opportunity for Alachua County cafeterias to afford fresh, locally grown produce formerly outside of their budgets. Kelli Brew, the county’s farm-to-school coordinator, said tax-funded public school dollars tended to favor low cost over high nutritional value.

This year, the district has begun growing its own healthy food. Loften renovated its two existing greenhouses over the summer using grants and donations totaling more than $50,000 from organizations like Keep Alachua County Beautiful, Lowe’s and the Shively Foundation. Brew said local farms like Forage Farm have also stepped in to lend their expertise.

The state-of-the-art organic and hydroponic greenhouses are now capable of producing 150 heads of lettuce every week, along with other seasonal fruits, vegetables and herbs to be sold to local schools starting in early November. Some schools are also helping to sustain the program by purchasing individual seedlings for use in their own gardens, Brew said.

While the farm-to-school initiative is sweeping the nation, Brew said the GET program is the first of its kind.

“The processing that needs to be done and the packing that the distributor would do, we have students doing,” she said. “So, the cost to us is just the basic cost of the supplies, and the payment for the students is the job training and possible certification in these skills. It’s a win-win for both food nutrition and the ESE program.”

Now, Loften is writing the handbook for similar programs in the future.

Baines said the program’s number one goal is to prepare students to enter the workforce. Students are taught how to interact socially and professionally, follow directions and problem-solve in a practical setting — a major departure from the world of true-false and multiple choice.

“Inside the classroom, you sit in there learning little bits and pieces,” Seabrooks said, wiping dirt from the herb garden off his palms. “Out here, you’re learning hands on.”

To Baines, that’s the true essence of education. He said he has seen a profound change in the students’ level of enthusiasm, confidence and productivity since school started just over two months ago. And he’s hoping local employers take notice. 

“It’s amazing what some of (these students) can do if given the opportunity,” he said.

Editors Note: The headline and second paragraph of this story have been updated to better reflect the nature of the student’s disabilities. 


This entry was posted in Education and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
 

More Stories in Education

Tony Malo reviews "Beyond Thought," one of his students' films in his classroom on May 21. His class has just finished their end-of-the-year projects.

Gainesville High Teacher Cultivates Student Creativity

Gainesville High School teacher Tony Malo uses unique teaching and disciplinary methods to prepare students for the workforce and empower them to be self-motivated while learning to collaborate in groups. He believes his experiential learning methods are more effective than teaching for standardized tests.


The computers in the media center at A.L. Mebane Middle School in Alachua are being equipped with the Fast ForWord learning program. The computer-based program is a part of Superintendent Owen Roberts' language development initiative.

Dollar General Awards Three Local Schools $135,000 For Fast ForWord

On Wednesday, Alachua Elementary School, W.W. Irby Elementary School and A.L. Mebane Middle School were awarded $135,000 by Dollar General to fund Fast ForWord, a program designed to improve language and reading competency in students. This is part of a five-year language development initiative to implement the program in all elementary schools in Alachua County.


CFX8zb6WAAAbh3T

Alachua County Schools Receive $1.2 Million

Gov. Rick Scott awarded a $1,277,312 check to 20 Alachua County schools Tuesday at Stephen Foster Elementary School. The money is part of the Florida School Recognition Program which is giving $124 million to schools statewide.


A file photograph showing textbooks and empty student desks inside an Atlanta, Georgia school.

Community Leaders Sign Education Compact

Community, business, government and education leaders signed a compact aiming to improve educational outcomes and opportunities for students in Alachua County through collaborative efforts. The compact was signed on Monday by 21 people.


Debbie Powell consoles her grandchildren in wake of the decision.

Alachua County School Board Passes Rezoning Plan That Will Dissolve Waldo Community School

The Alachua County School Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to consolidate Waldo Community School with Shell Elementary School. The decision marks the end of a hard fought battle for Waldo to keep its school.


Thank you for your support

WUFT depends on the support of our community — people like you — to help us continue to provide quality programming to North Central Florida.
Become a Sustainer
I want to support FM 89.1/NPR
I want to support Florida's 5/PBS
Donate a Vehicle
Underwriting Payments