REAP Food Group, East High Renovate School Greenhouse for Special Education Classes

From left: Madison East High School occupational therapy team Lisa Jacobson, Kelley Hutchison-Maravilla, and Seth Jawitz-McClellan stand inside the newly renovated East High School greenhouse. Photo by Alyssa Beno.

Madison, WI – Students in special education classes at Madison East High School will soon have the opportunity to learn and implement sustainable urban gardening projects with the recent renovation of the school greenhouse.

The renovation was done in partnership with REAP Food Group, a Madison-based nonprofit that brings local, sustainably produced food and hands-on agriculture and nutrition education to local schools. Garden-based education is shown to improve students’ knowledge of, and consumption of, fruits and vegetables.

“The wealth of research on the benefits of garden education for improving student academic and vocational skills development, as well as physical, social and emotional health outcomes continues to grow,” said REAP’s Farm to School Education Coordinator Haley Traun. “REAP is excited to provide support on an innovative project for deserving students, as well as to engage the larger school community and general public on the advantages of experiential education initiatives designed to reach all students.”

More than 250 students in special education classes will have access to the greenhouse, where they will learn about and grow vegetables, herbs and flowers alongside REAP’s AmeriCorps Nutrition Educators and local farmers. The project aims to teach students hands-on gardening and business development skills and engage the broader school community through greenhouse and sustainable agriculture activities.

“We want it to be a very used, inclusive space, year-round, looking at horticulture but also as a place for mindfulness,” said MMSD occupational therapist Kelley Hutchison-Maravilla.

Included in the garden program is hands-on, direct marketing experience as students plan to sell extra plant starts at an end-of-school-year plant sale. The culinary arts program will also use the vegetables and herbs grown in the greenhouse in cooking classes.

“One of REAP’s biggest successes was the culinary art program here getting off the ground, getting the AmeriCorps in and then getting the teacher onboard,” said MMSD occupational therapist Lisa Jacobson. “It now runs itself. It’s just a regular component of what happens here at the school so recruiting the right staff members at East to work in conjunction with REAP so this greenhouse can grow food and provide space for kids independent of a single staff member is my goal.”

Vegetables and herbs have already been planted in the greenhouse, with lessons planned for May. The project was made possible with funding from North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCR-SARE) and the Rotary Club of Madison.

“The ability to come in here and see the life transform from seeds and soil into the actual finished product, [the students] always seem to love it,” said MMSD occupational therapist Seth Jawitz-McClellan.

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