“A school is supposed to be a community, so everybody gets to celebrate the things they have, whether you are in athletics or band,” said Dawn Robinson, school board member. “This is just another good thing we have at Cleveland High School.”
Sensory gardens are meant to be enjoyed by the disabled and nondisabled alike. The environment is designed to engage visitors’ five senses through stimulation of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. Sidewalks between the five planting beds at CHS are wide enough to allow crutches or a wheelchair.
Cleveland’s Sensory Garden was originally thought up by Melissa Barnett as an outside component of the school’s multisensory room, the “Sensorium.” The Sensorium stimulates students’ senses through colorful bubbling water tubes, calming music, a projector with pleasant scenes and a tactile wall. Students who need to can go to the Sensorium as a break to their usual classroom.
Barnett said the Sensory Garden was her way of continuing to provide extracurricular activities for special needs students.
“What the sensory garden does, and what I had in mind, is not only for special needs students, but for everybody,” Barnett said. “I just kind of started it at the beginning, and then Mr. [Archie] Crossland and Mr. [Michael] Baker have just gone with it.”
Crossland, a CHS extended resource and comprehensive teacher, and Baker, a part-time CHS faculty member, took over the project following Barnett’s transfer to another CHS department.
“There are so many people to thank who were a part of this. Nobody turned us down for anything once you explained to them what it is about and how it will help these kids with life skills,” Baker said. “Worst case scenario? It is a beautiful garden. Best case scenario, it is going to give our kids life skills.”
Continued Baker, “The vegetable and fruit plants — they are going to plant, harvest and eat them. They are going to do it all and that is a skill they need.”
Students in the high school’s Extended Resource and Comprehensive Developmental classrooms are eagerly awaiting taking over the project.
“We loved this garden with all of our hearts and we decorated it,” said Andy Dobbins, ERCD student. “We did it with blood and sweat and tears, then we decorated it and — Poof! We’ve got a garden.”
Crossland agreed his students are excited.
“They have taken ownership of it and they are looking forward to getting out. When we start to harvest, they will see the benefits of all the work they have put into it initially,” Crossland said. “As the garden grows, I believe their appreciation will, too.”
“They have loved getting out there and getting dirty. Some of the guys caught like 50 worms one day.”
Five months ago, the sensory garden still needed about $7,500 till completion.
“We found this became a funding issue. We wanted to go with the stone perimeter as it would have been more durable, but we took it as a sign to back up and re-evaluate what we were doing. We have lumber around the beds now,” Crossland said. “It gets the job done.”
Five beds and a mast chime make up the sensory garden. Two beds will be dedicated to organically grown fruits and vegetables the students will plant, harvest and eat. The other three beds will stimulate the visitors’ senses of sight, smell and touch. One of the three beds will only have plants native to Tennessee.
The mast chime is currently in the final stages of development. A variety of components will be added along the column to benefit auditory/musical, kinesthetic and tactile learners.
“We are also going to put some tiles on [the mast chime] to recognize the donors who gave $50 or more,” Crossland said. “It will be visually stimulating. We are going to try and make some stencils so the students can be involved. The art department will fire [the tiles] for us.”
Baker said the entire CHS community helped out.
“For me personally, the sense of community and all of the help the students gave has been great. We actually had to turn students away,” Baker said. “The community at Cleveland High School has just chipped in and its been a fun thing to experience.”
According to Baker, students first built the wooden plant beds and then filled them with soil. The soil was carried from the parking lot to the garden in wheelbarrows.
Crossland also thanked city school administration, the CHS community, the Ocoee Garden Club, Roger and Cindy Pickett of MurMaid Mattress, Jack and Nancy Milne and various businesses and community groups in Cleveland.
Barnett thanked the Village Bakery for providing refreshments at the Sensory Garden’s first planting.
Robinson turned the thanks back on the special education teachers.
“I want to thank the special education teachers we have here. When you think about it, the teachers just have to come to school and teach and then they get to leave,” Robinson said. “These guys do all this, and it is extra. They do not get paid for this.”
Baker, Crossland and anyone interested will be maintaining the garden over the summer. The garden will also have minor expenditures throughout the year. Donations can be made by contacting either Baker or Crossland at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Checks made out to CHS for the garden must have ‘Sensory Garden’ on the memo line.
Autumn O’Bryan, CHS principal, touched on the part the garden will play at CHS.
“The Sensory Garden will provide an aesthetically pleasing space that also serves a very unique purpose,” O’Bryan said. “Many of our students become overwhelmed with the amount of activity at Cleveland High School. The sensory garden will provide these students a place to calm down and enjoy a more natural, peaceful setting.
“We are so thankful to our teachers and community members that have supported this project.”