Special education students have resuscitated a long-abandoned greenhouse in the center of Schenectady High School, creating an oasis of colorful flowers and tasty vegetables.
Three grants are paying for ARC to run a gardening program at the greenhouse for students enrolled in life skills classes at the high school.
These are students who are generally not mainstreamed and will stay in school until they turn 21. For them, the greenhouse isn’t a way to learn science.
Instead, it’s way for them to discover that they can breathe life into a seed.
They started with full-grown flowers and learned to divide them into cuttings. They spent the winter nursing those to health, each student in charge of their own plant. Then they started planting vegetable seeds, and now they’re seeing the first green shoots push out of the soil.
“They take ownership of their plants, and they take pride in the job,” said ARC horticulture coordinator Donna Vincent.
David Roe, 19, has been nurturing an aloe cutting since September. On Wednesday, he finally got to take the healthy plant home with him.
It’s a present for his girlfriend.
He’s much more interested in the aloe plants and the beautiful flowers he’s grown than the tiny shoots of what some day will be vegetables.
“I just like flowers,” he said, explaining that he actually has two plants to give to his girlfriend. One might go to his mother, he said. But at this age, his girlfriend takes priority.
He’s hoping she’ll like the plants.
Other students are fascinated by the carrots, which Vincent directed them to plant early just to give them the enjoyment of watching them quickly become full-fledged vegetables.
“They love that,” she said. “It’s so great watching them.”
The rest of the seedlings will be planted in a courtyard at the high school in May. Adults at the ARC day center will water and weed them all summer, and when the students return in the fall, they’ll get the fun of harvesting everything.
“They’ll bring the vegetables home. If there’s extra, maybe we’ll do cooking,” Vincent said. “When they get to bring them home, that’s going to be a big deal.”
The students are learning about nutrition through the program, as they find out how to use the vegetables they’re growing. And Vincent hopes they’ll eat more fresh vegetables this fall because of the garden.
They are also planning an ornamental garden at the faculty entrance to the high school. Later this spring, they’ll plant flowers there.
They’re also going to have a plant sale, which will raise money for field trips for the life skills classes.
And for some students, it could be the gateway to a job. One girl decided to enroll in the VoTec horticulture program next year because she enjoyed gardening in the greenhouse so much, Vincent said.
“If this could inspire a couple of people ... it sparked one interest,” Vincent said. “That’s a great outcome of just a few months of work.”