Since the summer, the botany class at Downey has helped special education students cultivate a vegetable garden.According to Downey principal Tom Houts, botany students worked with the special education students in mending the soil and planting vegetables. The special education students then tend the garden and use the grown vegetables in class to make a meal. This project began when Houts and science teacher Greg Pittenger discussed building a garden in front of the X-building for the special education students. "We decided to use wood already here for the botany program, construct and install wooden frames, and add soil and compost so they could plant," said Pittenger. Teachers and students alike have seen positive results from the project. "The general education students were really kind to my students," said special education teacher Charlotte Mann. "It's a really good project and my students get excited when they see the plants growing." "It was a good experience," said botany student and senior Bianey Valdez. "They were so eager to help. We helped them work in the flower beds to get them ready for planting. They all looked so happy. I felt fulfilled because I was able to make their day better." "The botany students get just as much out of it [as the special education students]. I think they now see them in a different light as more of a defined person with strengths. They are more real to my students than before when they just saw the special education students separated," said Pittenger. The growing, maintaining, and harvesting of the vegetable garden is also beneficial to special education students because it is part of the Individualized Education Program (IEP) and helps build a sense of responsibility. "It's really good for them because they have IEPs and their IEPs teach them goals such as growing a plant," said Mann. "Education psychology experts said it is a good idea to build responsibility by allowing them to plant things," said Pittenger. Houts, Pittenger, and Mann hope to continue this project in the upcoming years. The botany students will help the special education students with the garden when it needs taking care of. "We'll help with the big things whenever the garden needs rehabilitation. The garden belongs to them," said Pittenger.
********** Published: November 20, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 31