Students, teachers and volunteers worked together to create the new gardens at Options Secondary School. Photos by Freda Miklin
The Littleton Public Schools (LPS) Options Program for students in grades 6 through 12 offers smaller classes and individual support through the Discovery Program, “designed to teach social-emotional skills to students struggling with academic, attendance and attitude problems. It is a research-based curriculum currently being used in over 22 states across the country.” The concepts taught include social skills and behavior management strategies. Options currently serves 170 high schoolers and 50 middle schoolers from throughout the LPS district.
One of the important lessons Options students learn is how to ask for what they need in an appropriate, respectful way. Students asked for healthier choices on their lunch menu, like a salad bar. Teachers also wanted a place for students to go when they feel anxious. One of the coping strategies that works best is to simply take a quiet walk.
Kerry Nixon, Options science teacher, has taught in alternative schools for her entire 18-year career. It is her calling. Nixon received $15,000 in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) funds to use for her students. She wanted to save that money for the classroom, but she wanted to respond to her students’ requests and needs. Nixon came up with the idea of creating a vegetable garden and a serenity garden where students could retreat and reflect when necessary. She enlisted local businesses to make generous contributions to make her vision a reality.
Lowe’s stores in Littleton, Greenwood Village and Parker gave the school four benches, two storage sheds, the materials for the vegetable beds, people to help with the installation, and a shade structure so they could have an outdoor classroom. Lowe’s even gave the school gloves and tools to use and keep. O’Toole’s Garden Center and Santa Fe Sand & Gravel in Littleton provided materials and professional design and installation advice. King Soopers and Costco both donated gift cards for lunch for volunteers. A parent of an Options student who is a contractor brought his crew in for a full day, providing much needed technical assistance, as well as labor.
Options Secondary School students, teachers and volunteers created a vegetable garden with lettuce, tomatoes, edamame, and chili peppers at school with plants and materials donated by Lowe’s, O’Toole’s, Split Rail Fence Company and others.
The result is an on-site vegetable garden and a wellness and serenity garden for the students. The vegetable garden already has tomato, lettuce, edamame and chili peppers growing to be used for a student salad bar. The wellness and serenity garden contains a labyrinth for walking, benches for sitting, and will soon have a water feature.
The Villager dropped in on the in-progress installation. We found Nixon and three other teachers, school principal Greg Sumlin, the building custodian and eight Options’ students hard at work getting materials in place and installed.
This project is a great example of community collaboration, local businesses helping neighborhood students in a way that is tangible, meaningful and has immediate benefits. Sumlin said, “We are always looking for new and innovative ways to engage children. There are lots of stimuli out in the world. We are grateful for this opportunity that allowed our students to do something at school that’s hands-on, engaging, and develops useful skills to work with others, think critically and problem-solve in a collaborative manner.
The finished wellness and serenity garden is a place where students can take mindfulness walks or just reflect.
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