Sensory gardens help students with disabilities
In the small school garden, fire engine-red tomatoes and fragrant herbs flourish in raised beds and planters. These lush crops, however, are not as remarkable as the young gardeners who tend them. Many of the students face a wide array of challenges associated with disabilities such as ADHD, autism, and Asperger’s syndrome.
“We create gardens for students, especially those with sensory issues,” explained Patricia Robertson, who in 2012 helped to found the nonprofit AG Project in honor of a former student with sensory challenges. Patricia partnered with Michele Vaughan and Melanie Mansfield to raise funds and provide resources for the creation and maintenance of sensory gardens in schools, focusing first on the Central Texas area.
“We give teachers complete autonomy to decide what is best for students,” explained Michele, whether those students attend regular or special education classes. “There is an infinite range of abilities and disabilities. Children [who] experience difficulties interpreting sensory inputs can be oversensitive to things in their environment. This is common for children with autism, but other typically developing children can struggle [as well].”
She added that students can “have trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses.” As they garden, however, “children practice social interaction and life skills and [work] with soil and plants . . . to reduce tactile defensiveness” and to better understand sensory cues.
The AG Project has helped sponsor gardens at seven Leander School District campuses, including Bagdad, Parkside, Reagan, Cypress, River Ridge Elementary Schools and Leander and Rouse High Schools. The organization has also given grants to two schools in Louisiana and one to Monarch Academy in San Antonio.
In addition to the board members’ tireless efforts, the AG Project relies on contributions from the community. Last year it was awarded a modest grant through the Dell Foundation Health and Wellness Summit, and during the 5k fun run (the annual fundraiser) generous gift certificates were offered as prizes by various local businesses, including Georgetown business owners Steve and Kyra Quenan of Quenan’s Jewelers.
“We hope to be able to reach more and more schools,” Melanie said, “and eventually other states and even other countries. While we hope that AG Project gardens will benefit students with various sensory issues, all kids having gardening exposure is a good thing. We support the idea of ‘a garden in every school’ and hope for all students to have access to this opportunity.” Patricia added, “We have no geographical boundaries.”
The AG Project is currently forming an Advisory Board. If you’re interested in becoming involved, please visit them at www.theAGproject.org for more information.
Learn more about upcoming fundraisers and how to donate by going to the organization’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/TheAGproject.