Dig this: Devereux MA/RI vocational students grow knowledge, skills through gardening
When it comes to hands-on learning, students enrolled in the vocational program at Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health Massachusetts and Rhode Island have a growing appreciation for gardening.
This summer, students planted a variety of vegetables, including cucumbers, green peppers, lettuce, summer squash, tomatoes and zucchinis, in a raised garden bed on campus. After a few months of watering, weeding and watching the vegetables grow, it was time to harvest. The students, who also participate in a cooking class, were able to taste the fruits of their labor through assorted culinary creations.
“This is a wonderful project for our students who take great pride in maintaining the garden, making sure animals have not disturbed the soil and picking the vegetables when they are ripe,” said Devereux Massachusetts and Rhode Island Vocational Coordinator Jysenia Valle. “Our students get so excited. I will be walking down the hallway and they will say, ‘Miss Valle, did you see the garden? We have a tomato!’ Or, when we are working in the garden, ‘Geez – those zucchinis are huge!’ Their eyes brighten, and they are filled with joy. That is incredibly fulfilling for me.”
Devereux Massachusetts and Rhode Island Education Director Katherine Flynn, M.S.Ed., also noted, “Gardening has a clear beginning, middle and end, and our students have the opportunity to participate in the entire process and learn where their food comes from. We have four raised garden beds on campus. Each year, our vocational program, which started this project three years ago, grows vegetables in one of the beds. Other classrooms can use the other three beds as they wish. Recently, we had a classroom grow green beans, another grew sunflowers – it is fun to see everyone embrace gardening.”
Cultivating life, social skills
In addition to acquiring horticulture skills, the vocational students are gaining valuable life and social skills.
“Our students are learning how to eat healthy. Some kids may say, ‘I don’t like zucchini,’ but once they try it, or try a variation of it, like zucchini noodles, they may find they actually love how it tastes,” Valle explained. “Some even ask to take vegetables back to their residence hall, saying, ‘Miss Valle, can I take my cucumber? I really want to share it.’ In addition, when the kids are working in the garden, they are in a group setting. Being with different peers every day gives them an opportunity to learn how to communicate effectively, work together and build relationships.”
Creating positive experiences
Valle says her students look forward to working in the garden each year. Look below to find out what just a few of them love most about the project.
“I’ve learned patience from working in the garden. Teamwork is my favorite part.”
“Working in the garden is really relaxing. I like getting dirty.”
“I’ve enjoyed learning how to garden. Planting and spending time with my job coach is my favorite part.”
Valle also shared, “Gardening is just a small part of our vocational program, but one that creates memorable moments and positive experiences for our students.”
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