“We were given this garden with the understanding there was no money in the school budget,” said Mike Baker, a part-time CHS faculty member. “We will get the money; inch by inch, row by row.”
About $4,200 has been raised by faculty members, students, and private donors in the last 13 months. The remaining $7,500 is needed for materials and the installation of raised garden beds and security cameras.
Archie Crossland, an ERC teacher at CHS, said he would love to return from Christmas with the garden beds ready for spring planting. He strongly believes the garden will benefit his students with special needs.
“This is another opportunity to bring students into the community and let them work with others. Working in the garden will build teamwork and camaraderie between students,” Crossland said.
Both men hope the Cleveland community will see the benefit of the sensory garden. Crossland said donations that go to the sensory garden will give Cleveland residents another chance to show how they are part of “The City with Spirit.”
“This project gives the city an opportunity to shine in the way they care for those who are differently abled than themselves. ... It allows them to sow into the lives of students who need people,” Crossland said. “Our students may not be able to serve in the same way as others in the community, but they will contribute in their own way. ... This will help them on their track to being good citizens.”
Socializing and working toward a goal will help students whose disabilities include interpersonal issues. The garden is designed in such a way as to stimulate all of the students’ senses. Various components of the garden will engage visitors’ and students’ sense of smell, sight, hearing, taste and touch.
Sensory gardens are specifically designed to be maintained and enjoyed by all visitors. Students in Cleveland High’s special services classes will be responsible for planning, planting, and maintaining the garden.
The garden will consist of five garden beds and a “Mast Chime.” Two beds will be dedicated to organically grown fruits and vegetables. Students will maintain, harvest, and eat their produce. Another two beds will stimulate the sensory impact of visitors’ senses of sight, smell, and touch. A final bed will be devoted to the study of nature in the state of Tennessee.
According to CHS’s informational packet, a “Mast Chime” will provide sustenance for the students’ sensory diets and benefit auditory/musical, kinesthetic and tactile learners.
“We are wanting to make it multidimensional, so we are having to tweak it along the way for the students’ needs. We want to have the chimes and gongs on there for the physical touch. Tactile feedback structures and textures are important. A lot of students really rely on that feedback,” Crossland said.
Objects like switches and textured wood and metal offer special-needs students incentives for movement.
“A lot of our kids do not want to raise their arms very high, but if we give them a reason, then it helps with their physical challenges,” Crossland said.
Everything will be handicapped accessible, Baker said. Sidewalks are wide enough for wheelchairs. Garden beds will be 18-20 inches off the ground. The height allows students in wheelchairs to garden as easily as their peers. According to Baker, the beds will also be designed to allow students to sit on the brick and stone sides.
Crossland and his co-workers designed the curriculum to integrate the garden into classroom teachings. Lessons on cooking, the effects of pollution, root systems, and being good stewards of the earth are just a few examples.
“Students will learn additional lessons in working together in groups, planning and organization. These are real basic skills these children need,” Baker said. “They need to learn to work together and socialize and enjoy life. For some of these students, not knowing how to enjoy things is part of their challenge.”
Baker said he was really impressed by the general student body population at Cleveland High.
“They do not treat our kids any different. Our students are not treated as outsiders. There are high fives and ‘Hellos,’” Baker said. “There are many people who want to get in on this and help, and there have been a lot already.”
The future sensory garden was once a memorial garden planted by a 1980s graduating class. Over the years, the garden fell into a disarray. Students have been involved in renovating the area.
Cleveland High’s basketball team helped to clear out the overgrown beds. Art students promised to paint four trees on the surrounding walls to represent the seasons. Key Club members have begun to place foot stones.
“Students have been more than willing to help,” Baker said.
This includes students buying T-shirts and survival bracelets as a part of the sensory garden’s fundraising efforts. T-shirts sell for $15 while survival bracelets are $5. Crossland makes a majority of the bracelets.
Both Baker and Crossland remain passionate and excited about the project.
“Dr. Ringstaff and Ms. O’Bryan have been very supportive of this project. They have been key in encouraging us through the project. I know they are just as excited as us to see it finished,” Crossland said. “I am confident we will meet our goal.”