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Gardening At American School For The Deaf Fosters Life Skills

ifting through dirt in a raised planter bed, four students at the American School for the Deaf on Friday saw the fruits of their labor first-hand, or in this case, the potatoes of their labor.

Starting in April, students Caleb George, Luis Mandato, Chatel Roberts and Daniel Schevchuk, started working in a garden off to the side of the school property, planting a variety of different vegetables, and some strawberries, too. Though the peppers didn’t make it, by October the garden will yield kale, potatoes, cucumbers, radishes, green and yellow squash, tomatoes, beans, strawberries and carrots.

The students are part of the Positive Attitudes Concerning Education and Socialization program – a program for students with special needs who are deaf or hearing impairedand have emotional or behavioral challenges, and will become the “role models” for a new program the school looks to roll out this fall. The program is for students age 3 to 21 who are deaf, hearing impaired and non-verbal autistic students.

Residential counselor Jeremy Ames said the garden started about four or five years ago for autistic students to learn the concept of farm-to-table and enhance their vocabulary. Each garden bed has a sign with a photo of what the crop will look like when it is fully grown.

“The other goal of this garden is to make it kind of a coping skill area, specifically with the PACES department, a lot of kids need coping skills,” Ames said. “It also breaks up their day as far as sitting and doing academic or vocational skills. … This becomes a life skill for them, you can go outside now and grow your own food which is an awesome, healthy option for them.”

The garden includes different raised beds surrounding a small fountain. Starting in April and working through to October, the four students work in the garden for a few hours each Monday and Friday. They are responsible for weeding the garden beds, planting different plants that have been growing in a hydroponic garden inside the school, harvesting the vegetables and cooking with them.

“It’s also really good skills for them to learn,” Ames said. “When they go to group homes or go home with their parents they can help with gardening. … It shows that they can do it — yes, you might have to adapt and give more assistance [but] they can do it, they do do it, this is all them.”

Ultimately, Ames said, he hopes the students will be able to sell their produce at local farmers markets.