Creating inclusion in the gardens

Two students at Providence High School are turning their senior exit projects into service projects that will help benefit a sometimes-overlooked group of students at the school.

Providence High seniors Katelyn Mathis and Kyle Franks (above, center) built handicap-accessible garden beds with the held of teacher Michelle Long (left).

Providence High seniors Katelyn Mathis and Kyle Franks (above, center) built handicap-accessible garden beds with the held of teacher Michelle Long (left).

Providence High seniors Katelyn Mathis and Kyle Franks have made horticulture a big part of their high school career, completing three major courses on the topic. Last semester they took agriculture teacher Michelle Long’s advanced studies course, a project-based course that requires students to complete a 40-hour project outside of the classroom.

Luckily, Katelyn and Kyle, who have been friends since sophomore year, wrote their junior-year research papers around horticulture topics. Katelyn wrote about horticulture therapy and Kyle about the benefits of bamboo. The students and Long put their heads together this year to combine Katelyn and Kyle’s research to make one great project for their advanced studies course and prepare for a way to refine and tweak the project for their end of the year senior exit projects.

“We said, ‘How can we kill two birds with one stone?’” Long said. “How could we combine the projects, as well as make projects that would benefit students here at school?”

The exceptional children classrooms at Providence are conveniently located near Long’s classroom. That, along with Katelyn’s research on the therapeutic benefits of gardening, gave Kyle and Katelyn the idea to create handicap-accessible garden beds right on the school’s campus and near the EC classrooms and ramps outside.

Katelyn and Kyle first had to go through a significant review process with Principal Tracey Harrill to get their project off the ground, since they needed access and approval to makeover a vacant underutilized half grass and concrete space on campus.

“I wrote my paper on enabling gardens, which are gardens for children with autism. I felt bad because they are always inside, and I wanted to bring them outside,” Katelyn said, adding much of the time, it seems EC students are confined to their mobile classrooms. “In my research, I found out gardening is a great project therapeutically to build your mind and muscles.”

That’s why the team decided to build the two approved garden beds up off the ground, one at the level for students in wheelchairs, and the other at a standing level with a bamboo cover that makes it easier for students, and plants, who are sensitive to sunlight, Kyle, who built the bamboo cover, said. Long said the project also will help benefit students in her horticulture classes by allowing them to work one on one with the EC students in the gardens, which promotes inclusion and acceptance between the two groups of students.

So far, the students have purchased some plants and flowers to go in the garden beds, but with harsh winter temperatures, they’re waiting until spring to officially plant the pieces. Long said the students also will be planting some vegetables, as well as sunflowers later this spring, hopefully with the help of the EC kids.

“We want it to be a warm, inviting space where they can be comfortable and where my horticulture classes would be comfortable working with them,” Long said. “This is a group of students that is most definitely neglected and does not feel part of the rest of the student body, and I think this is a great way to include them.”

Katelyn and Kyle will use this semester to finalize their projects and spruce up the outside space in preparation for their senior exit projects on May 1. But while they’ll be graduating this June, Long hopes to utilize the students’ hard work for years to come, she said.


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