Hamilton High School allows special needs students to garden with unique outdoor area

Hamilton High School special needs student Jacob Strong waters an in-school garden where he and his classmates grow vegetables and learn science and nature lessons. The court-yard garden is enclosed by the Butler County high school and allows the students to grow and harvest vegetables to take home in early fall.
Hamilton High School special needs student Jacob Strong waters an in-school garden where he and his classmates grow vegetables and learn science and nature lessons. The court-yard garden is enclosed by the Butler County high school and allows the students to grow and harvest vegetables to take home in early fall.

A garden oasis at Hamilton High School is doubling as a therapeutic classroom for special needs students.

This week saw dozens of students out digging, planting and watering in flower and vegetable beds of soil in the open-air court yard in the middle of the Butler County high school building.

Amy Michael, a special needs teacher, is helping about 60 of her students take part in renewing the garden this spring.

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Students with a wide variety of developmental and physical challenges take pride in the garden’s annual re-planting and care, leading to a harvest in early fall that sees the teens taking fresh vegetables home to share with family.

“The whole reason we came up with this space is we noticed our students with more significant needs, needed an area outside … we wanted to make an outside environment that would be inclusion for everyone,” said Michael, who pointed to the specially designed elevated garden beds of varying heights to allow access by students in wheelchairs.

“They can still learn science and math concepts out here while using their energy to experience the environment,” she said.

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It’s the second year for the garden project, which last fall saw a harvest of cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, brussel sprouts, broccoli and lots of herbs taken home by the teen gardeners.

Among them was Will Miller, a senior at the school, who donned his gardening gloves and joined classmates in preparing fresh garden soil for planting.

“I really like being out in the fresh air but also are a lot smells and tastes out here. Last year I brought home peppers and cucumbers,” said Miller.

“It’s really fun. It’s great to be out here and enjoying the nature,” he said.

Joni Copas, spokesperson for Hamilton schools, said “this is such great collaboration between so many different classes,” as she gazed over the wooden, custom-made flower beds, structures and disabled-access picnic tables and benches all created by Hamilton’s career school wood-working students.

“And the staff comes out to enjoy the beauty of the garden,” and so many local companies also contribute soil, garden supplies.”

The garden is walled in by surrounding wings of the high school building and she said “all you have to worry about are bugs and birds” getting into the student garden.

“It’s a great way for these kids to get their hands dirty and feel a part of the earth,” said Copas.