Best Schools: Hamilton HS

Hamilton High School is continuing to develop a sanctuary for special needs students to express themselves by embracing garden-based learning that promotes collaboration and inclusiveness across the student body.

“We wanted to create a learning environment where students can be outside, get messy, use their energy, but still make ties to content,” says Amy Michael, special education teacher and one of the project’s pioneers. The accessible sensory garden, producing everything from eggplants to herbs, is designed with the student’s needs in mind.

The beautiful outdoor space, situated just outside the main hallway, consists of two traditional beds and two raised wheelchair beds to accommodate both adult and youth sized wheelchairs, although there are plans to construct a fully operational tiered bed and washing station in the future. Other students utilize adaptive tools allowing them to be involved like any other student.

Hamilton’s garden impacts 60 students directly, though the project has drawn interest across various academic departments. In the future, the garden will continue to be used for hands-on science activities, while a new art mural elective plans on creating its first masterpiece on a wall facing the garden.

“The unsung hero of this project is the carpentry department and Tim Carpenter, ironically the carpenter teacher, has been a vital member of the team,” says Michael, as she motions toward the tables, specifically designed by students with wheelchair accessibility in mind.  “His students build what we need, which is great since we wouldn’t have been able to afford everything.”

Jacqueline Nicholson, a special education teacher specializing in sensory learning, believes the garden creates a special environment in which students work together. “This space is accessible for everyone and we all work together as a team.”

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