Opinion: Community gardens help students thrive and grow. As a therapist, I have seen it first hand.

Leiser is an occupational therapist at Sierra School of San Diego, which focuses on special education and is located in San Carlos. She lives in North Park.

I vividly remember the first time I set foot in the San Carlos Community Garden. It was a hot summer day in San Diego four years ago and I was visiting campus as an occupational therapy student for my level two fieldwork rotation. I was thrilled to be able to implement outdoor therapy for my students in a school setting. This provided a rare and unique opportunity for students; I knew instantly that the beautiful garden would be a special place for meaningful, motivating and engaging occupational therapy sessions.

Since graduating in 2018, I have worked as an occupational therapist at Sierra School in San Diego and part of my role is to ensure that our students spend time outside the classroom, including field trips to the community and to the garden. My career is dedicated to designing and implementing treatment plans that promote and improve cognitive, social interaction, and motor skills for children and adolescents who have historically struggled to succeed in work settings. General Education. In the classroom and in the garden, I am grateful and thrilled to see our amazing students gaining independence and achieving success.

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The San Carlos Community Garden is a sustainable community garden that operates in partnership with Sierra de San Diego School, where we provide special education services to students who need additional educational and behavioral supports. Thanks to this partnership, I learn outside for our students. They can take care of the garden, take care of the flowerbeds, compost and harvest the crops. Horticulture lessons transition into life skills learning when vegetables and spices become delicious ingredients to use in occupational therapy group cooking sessions. Additionally, as part of our school’s WorkAbility bridging program, some older students gain hands-on work experience in the garden. The community garden is therapeutic in many ways for Sierra students, including activities designed to improve job skills. For example, gardening activities address sequencing skills, motor planning skills, problem solving, attention to task and task completion, which are areas that are challenging for many of our students. .

Not only does the San Carlos Community Garden amplify the beauty of our campus, it provides a wealth of learning opportunities for our students. This month we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the garden. Established in 2012 through a grant funded by the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency, it provides a safe and beautiful space for community members to grow their own healthy, organic foods and flowers. Over the next 10 years, the garden has had a positive impact on hundreds of students at Sierra School – from the calm and quiet respite it provides to lessons in science, cooperation and sensory experiences.

Jessica Leiser and two students from the San Carlos Community Garden.

Jessica Leiser and students from Sierra de San Diego School at the San Carlos Community Garden.

(Sierra School of San Diego)

Over time, we see firsthand the reward of each student’s work. The garden shows that with consistency, dedication and patience, you can see progress and results in what you grow. Students can take a break in the garden if they feel upset, anxious or overstimulated. The garden also provides sensory exploration by working in dirt and water for tactile sensory input, pushing the heavy wheelbarrow to detect movement, and smelling and tasting fruits and vegetables that students have never tried . The possibilities for therapeutic intervention in the garden are endless.

I have personally learned more about gardening since joining Sierra staff and have enjoyed having a community garden on campus. I came to better understand the whole process of managing and growing a successful garden. I also learned about patience and how much our students benefit and thrive from being outside in nature working with their hands.

Watching the students in the garden makes me excited and proud that they are motivated and engaged in learning. It is gratifying to see them working independently. When students are so enthusiastic about an activity – a job in the garden or a hands-on science lesson in the garden – it shows that they are satisfied and take ownership of their successes. I like to see students who are enthusiastic about learning.

Together with volunteers, Sierra students help fulfill the community garden’s mission of promoting gardening for nutrition and beauty, knowledge for healthy living and stewardship of the land, collaboration with neighbors and schools , and the spirit through inspiration and healing. I appreciate that our students have access to a flourishing garden throughout the school day that provides different learning opportunities, opportunities for sensory exploration and sensory breaks.

Working as an occupational therapist requires many of the skills a gardener needs to be successful, including patience and perseverance. The entire Sierra de San Diego community is blessed to have the garden as a space to nurture our students and watch them grow.

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