Jen School Garden
Opened on Maryville's Des Plaines, IL campus in August 2007, the Jen School is a special education day school for male students, grades 7-12, with intellectual, emotional, behavioral, and learning disabilities. Jen School serves students from Maryville's residential programs and day students from local communities.
The Organic Garden Program was implemented six years ago to help our special needs students learn about math, science, nutrition, and health, and to teach them social skills, life skills and job skills that will help prepare them for a successful and independent life beyond school. Each spring, students shop for seeds, plants, and tools and turn over the soil to prepare it for planting. A large variety of vegetables, herbs, fruit, and flowers are planted annually in the 25 garden boxes and 12 flower boxes the boys built themselves. Every day, during and after school, throughout the growing season, the Jen School students work in the garden to fertilize, weed, and water their plants and flowers. In the fall the produce is harvested and used in cooking classes, the school lunch program, sold in a farm stand on campus, and beginning in 2010, some of the produce will be donated to local food pantries.
The Jen Organic Garden Program was implemented in the spring of 2008 beginning with a few small beds of vegetables. By the spring of 2009, the organic garden grew to twenty 10' x 10' garden boxes the students built themselves in an area behind the school. Each year the staff and students map out the garden; shop for seeds, plants, tools and fertilizer; turn over the soil; plant the vegetables, herbs, and fruit; fertilize, weed, and water the garden; harvest; and eat and sell the fresh produce. Plans are already underway for the 2011 Organic Garden. In addition to planting over twenty vegetables and herbs in the garden boxes, the 2011 garden will include grapevines, various berries, and an orchard of fruit trees including apple, pear, cherry, and plum. A new storage shed will be built next to the garden and funding is being investigated for the installation of a permanent fence. Staff and students are investigating the feasibility and financial implications of adding a hoop house for year around growing.
The goals of the Organic Garden Program include teaching adolescent boys with intellectual disabilities and mental illness about nutrition, science, and math; helping them learn basic life skills; developing their social skills; providing them with vocational training and employment opportunities; and instilling a life-long love of gardening. The boys learn to work as a team and, through gardening, they strengthen their communication, problem-solving, decision-making, and relationship-building skills. The Organic Garden Program has been very therapeutic for our special needs young men, helping to keep them calm, relaxed, and in control of their emotions and behaviors. Working in the garden has also developed and sharpened their job skills – essential skills needed to get and keep a job and to attain as much self-sufficiency as possible. The Maryville Jen School Organic Garden Program has positively impacted students with intellectual and learning disabilities and helped them maximize their academic and vocational success.