Y.A.L.E. School Cherry Hill students are taking learning outside the classroom and gaining new skills through gardening. As part of our school-to-work and community-based-instruction programs, three Standard 9 classrooms have been working with a horticulture therapist at the Pennsauken Community Garden and Y.A.L.E.’s own garden at the Cherry Hill campus. The plants were provided by the Camden Children’s Garden in Camden as part of a USDA grant. Ms. Claus’s Cherry Hill Lower School ESY classroom is also helping out by watering the plants in the on-campus garden. Students began growing the vegetables at the community gardens and on campus in the spring, and this summer’s result was a delicious salsa!
The students have been improving their green thumbs with help from Rachelle Hasenberg, a horticulturist who practices Horticultural Therapy. This type of therapy has been used for many years to improve physical strength, endurance, mobility and motor skills as well as social skills and mental well-being. Horticultural therapy can compliment occupational and physical therapies and benefits many types of people with disabilities ranging from autism to learning disabilities, brain injuries, or physical impairments. Ms. Hasenberg has been working with the students a few times a month, teaching them how to raise the vegetables while exploring a new leisure activity that’s also educational.
At the gardens, students tend to the plants and learn more about each vegetable—many students have found a new favorite! A few students have never had the opportunity to care for and learn about fresh vegetables before, so the experience is new and exciting. In July, some of the vegetables were harvested and Standard 9 students used them along with some other ingredients to make fresh salsa that students and staff were able to enjoy.
Standard 9 student Will R. reflected on the salsa-making experience, saying, “It was a lot of fun to make the salsa. I had never made it before, and the skills we learned in food preparation will be useful in the future.”
For Will and some of his classmates, this was their first experience using basic kitchen skills and preparing food from scratch. They had to pay attention to food safety and sanitary practices to ensure the healthiest experience possible. Students can continue to develop these skills at Y.A.L.E.’s Manayunk overnight house, which has a fully-furnished kitchen. While staying overnight at the Manayunk house with classmates and teachers, students have to cook their own dinner, practicing meal planning and preparation. These skills have practical value and will translate directly to daily living.
The Y.A.L.E. School students plan to continue using their skills to garden and use the fresh vegetables in new ways. They plan to harvest more vegetables soon and donate them to a local shelter. The program is rewarding and enriching for students and the community!