Disability Issues

CPS students with disabilities help design gardens with Southside Occupational Academy and VOA Associates

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A few weeks ago, a Chicago public school opened series of a unique gardens designed by architects with help from students with cognitive disabilities.

The purpose of these gardens is to give high school students from Southside Occupational Academy hands- on experiences and job skills.

Creating these gardens was just the beginning. Maintaining them is ongoing.

On earth day, architects and students worked together to install seven learning gardens.

"I have an agriculture program here at the school," said Principal Joshua Long. "We believe again in hands on learning. So rather than sitting in a classroom and learning about plants, we 're going to be outside caring for the plants, manicuring them and watering them on daily basis."

This is the first time VOA Associates is working on a project with the school, says Michael Toolis.

" This project directly reflects on our commitment to sustainability and community involvement," he said. "We started with the academy back in November, and we started with 11 different designs for the gardens. We worked with the students, and they selected seven of the gardens to work with."

Each garden has its own theme.

"We have a Zen garden for relaxation. We have a rain garden, a sensory garden, a water harvesting garden and hummingbird garden," said Joshua.

They also have a garden honoring Louie the dog.

"He's a mini goldendoodle that's in the process of being trained as a working dog. He comes and spends five days a week here with the students. He's wonderful," said Joshua.

"I think its obviously rewarding. I mean, it's a fun project the kids have been really engaging, and they seem to have a special knack for being friendly and being polite. It's been a real experience. It's been wonderful," Michael said.

"If you think about traditional school where they have biology lab or science lab, this is their lab, and we will be able to use this thanks to VOA for different learning opportunities for our students to teach them to lay papers, take care of plants to work in different nurseries," said Joshua.

To learn more about Southside Occupational Academy and VOA Associates: www.southsideacademycps.org and www.voa.com.

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