Jr. Master Gardener Program important to developmental efforts
Congratulations go to the JMG Snapdragons for being the February Group of the Month. JMG Snapdragons are a group of 15 youth at Hewitt-Trussville High School who are led by teachers and volunteers. Teacher Carrie Jones and volunteers, Lisa George and Susan Grimes, work with the students on a daily basis to bring gardening into the classroom. This is the second year the group has participated in the JMG program. The JMG Snapdragons are not your typical group of young people. They range in age from 14-21 and have various physical, psychological, emotional and developmental limitations and delays. This group of young people is part of the Life Skills Academy at Hewitt-Trussville High School.
The Life Skills Academy received a CAWACO RC&D educational grant to help further their JMG program. As a result of the grant, the P.L.A.N.T. project was created and a partnership between Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Hewitt-Trussville Life Skills Academy and the JMG program was formed. The project involved an intergenerational pairing of members of the Life Skills Academy with residents of the Oaks on Parkwood, a retirement community in Jefferson County. The main objective for the students was to prepare them, through a combination of classroom instruction, mentor interaction and horticultural therapy, to acquire the skills and training to prepare them to contribute to their community to the best of their abilities.
The students spent time at the retirement community helping to improve their grounds by adding flowers and container gardens to their patio. Back at the school, the drafting and carpentry classes designed and built raised beds for the exceptional students to begin gardening outside. Inside the classroom, the JMG curriculum was used to teach their science lessons that complemented their outside gardening.
The program allowed students to develop necessary life skills while connecting with their community. Furthermore, the residents of the Oaks on Parkwood reported greater life satisfaction and self-esteem combined with lessening of depressive symptoms. The students have an increased connection to their natural surroundings that has proven to be an important part of their learning. One of the goals of the volunteers, teachers and students is to earn JMG certification by the end of the year.
Many successes have come out of this project. Carrie Jones spoke of one student who, before the P.L.A.N.T. project began, would not look people in the eyes, dig in the dirt, touch a plant or carry anything heavy. Now he looks people in the eyes, is the first to introduce himself, digs in the dirt, plants, weeds and carries anything he is asked to. Jones also said this was a big step for this student.
Jones talked very appreciatively of the volunteers who come into the classroom once a week, Lisa George and Susan Grimes. "I have seen many sessions with Ms. Grimes that evoke many amazing responses from some of my students who have moderate to profound disabilities."
JMG is typically used with young people between the ages of eight to 14. This group has shown how versatile the JMG curriculum can be and how it can serve any child interested in gardening.
They have also chartered their class as a 4-H club. Bridgett Helms, County Extension Agent for Jefferson County, works with the students once a month on 4-H projects. All of the students have learned and can recite the 4-H pledge.
Luci Davis is the State Junior Master Gardener Coordinator. For more information on the program, phone (334) 703-7509.