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Sensory garden to provide tactile learning at Franklin Learning Center

If developed as planned, it would feature aromatic herbs, a waterfall and specially designed instruments that generate vibrations in the ground

February 17, 2013|By JENNIFER FITCH | waynesboro@herald-mail.com
  • Franklin Learning Center student Justin Landaverde, left, and teacher Ken Decker work in a garden last year at the school outside Chambersburg, Pa.
Submitted photo

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — Every spring, there comes a day when area schoolchildren beg to have class outside as warmer weather returns.

The 175 students at Franklin Learning Center will get that wish granted this year. Their school has plans to develop a sensory garden, where the students with disabilities can do more than dig in the dirt.

If developed as planned, the garden would feature aromatic herbs, a waterfall and specially designed instruments that generate vibrations in the ground.

“It truly is encompassing all the senses we’re trying to shoot for,” said Jackie Drooger, a life skills teacher who is acting supervisor at the school.

Not only can students learn life skills such as plant care and when vegetables are ready to be picked, but they can learn how leaves break down for composting, Drooger said.

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Raised planting beds will allow wheelchair-bound students to work in the dirt. They will have access to specialized gardening tools for individuals with physical limitations.

“There are so many reading and basic math skills we can work on in the garden. ... It’s a huge, huge learning experience for our kids,” Drooger said.

School Supervisor Robin Kendlehart, who is on leave, started the process to develop the garden and obtained a $2,500 grant from the Franklin County Foundation. Now, school supporters are raising funds to obtain all the features planned for the sensory garden.

The entire project could cost $15,000, Drooger said. Some of the most expensive elements would be the adaptive xylophone, marimba and gong that send vibrations into the ground to be enjoyed by autistic students, she said.

Students, who range in age from 3 to 21, will be able to smell some of the herbs planned for planting, and they will be able to hear the instruments and waterfall.

“Special-needs kids learn in a variety of ways, and a lot of them learn in tactile ways, like touching, seeing, feeling. It’s an amazing educational opportunity for students outside the traditional classroom,” said Rita Daywalt, whose son attends the Franklin Learning Center.

The Franklin Learning Center’s courtyard area is already staked out for some of the garden, which will be entirely handicap-accessible. The center has a small greenhouse where teachers did some plantings last year.

“Some of our kids didn’t realize food came from a garden like that,” Drooger said.

For more information about the project, contact the Franklin Learning Center at 717-263-2700.

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