Special education classroom to incorporate garden into lesson plans

The Early Childhood Special Education Classroom in Seaside, which serves students with special needs from Seaside, Gearhart, Cannon Beach, Warrenton and Jewell, will refurbish and plant this abandoned garden bed and it will be incorporated into numerous learning opportunities.

A grant to the Early Childhood Special Education Classroom in Seaside will go toward refurbishing and planting an abandoned garden bed to help students with lessons about nutrition, colors and qualitative and quantitative concepts.

Meredith McGrath, an instructional assistant at the classroom, located on the Seaside Heights Elementary School campus, applied for and received a $200 grant from the Northwest Regional Education Service District Foundation for the project. The classroom, operated by the Northwest Regional Education Service District, serves preschool-aged children with special needs from Seaside, Gearhart, Cannon Beach, Warrenton and Jewell.

McGrath, who started in July, said the garden will be “a really great way to help with academic lessons.”

“Gardens do a lot; they have a lot of potential,” she said.

From planting seeds and starter plants to painting watering cans or other equipment, there are numerous learning opportunities related to tending a garden that can reinforce social, academic and emotional concepts, she said. The students can learn simple science lessons and use garden concepts to explore numbers and colors.

“It’s never too early to learn all that stuff,” she said, adding students of all ages will benefit. “Getting up and moving and touching things is the best way for them to learn.”

In the classroom, instructors try to use a variety of learning styles. The garden “will be a really good way to incorporate space-based education,” McGrath said. Space-based teaching methods absorb a student’s surrounding environment into lesson plans and learning activities.

The grant funds were to be released by the end of the year. The money will cover the cost of tools, seeds, soil and starter plants. McGrath said they will not need to seek any other funding sources this year.

She has not overseen a classroom garden but she has seen it done at other schools. The teachers will get the project started by clearing the raised garden bed and getting it prepped. Once the weather warms, the students will get involved.

McGrath said she plans to plant a variety of flowers and vegetables that grow quickly and easily. The produce will be used in the classroom, she said.

She hopes to keep the garden going in future school years. She can reapply for the foundation grant, and she also will consider having the students write requests for donated materials from local businesses in the future.

“There are ways of continuing it,” McGrath said.

In November, the Northwest Regional Education Service District Foundation awarded 22 grants — amounting to more than $19,000 — to local school district for projects in special education and at-risk programs in Clatsop, Columbia, Tillamook and Washington County school districts.

The grants are focused on two funding priorities. The first is services for children from birth through age 5 with varying degrees of disabilities including autism, hearing and visual impairments, speech-language needs and those who are medically fragile. The second focus is school-age special education and behavioral programs for young children and students kindergarten to age 21 with developmental delays, and psychological, emotional and behavioral issues.

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