Student therapy garden also grows confidence

Five-year-old Lilly Cameron at the opening of the therapy garden.

A Tauranga children’s therapy garden will help grow “confident, active and resilient” leaners who can thrive in a traditional classroom environment.

That’s according to the Your Garden co-founder and special needs educator Jess Hubbard, who has spent the past year working to set-up a fully-equipped garden site at The Historic Village.

More than 40 people gathered at the site on July 18 to celebrate the official opening of the garden, where local primary students will spend the next two terms digging soil, harvesting vegetables and growing flowers.

Jess and co-founder Jo Easterby are stoked to be finally launching the programme.

The pair worked with Merivale and Matua Primary School students last year during the pilot programme at the Welcome Bay Community Garden.

Initially, they had planned to move to the Historic Village site in Term One, but they were set back by COVID-19.

“At the start of this year we really hit a lull with COVID-19 – it set us back. Keeping our spirits up has been hard, but it is possible when you are positive and share a vision.

“We can now run the programme in its entirety, which is something we couldn’t do when we were borrowing sites,” says Jess.

The pair managed to fundraise $4600 for the programme, alongside receiving multiple donations of tools, plants and gazebos for the site.

The plot of land was also given to them by Tauranga City Council.

The target students for the programme generally do not receive any funding for learning assistance at school, Jess says.

These needs can include autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and high anxiety.

Both Jo and Jess take two days a week off work to run the therapy garden, which they say can be tough at times but is very much worth their while.

“After completing this programme children manage themselves better – they will learn the required pre-skills of surviving and thriving in a modern classroom.

“Hopefully they will be able to develop their focus and shared attention. Everything they learn in the garden, we want them to be able to take that back to the classroom.”

Students will be donating some produce they grow to local charity Good Neighbour, says Jess.

“Now the children will be able to harvest food and take it to Good Neighbour. They will be doing it for themselves, but also get the added mana of donating produce.”

Last year, Merivale assistant principal and special educational needs coordinator Heather Langley told The Weekend Sun the Your Garden pilot programme transformed the students involved.

“When they came back with produce and flowers, they had massive pride. On the last day, we had tears from students because they knew it was the end.

“We chose the quiet students for the programme, but when they were given the chance they just blossomed in this environment.”

Labour list MP Jan Tinetti, who attended the official opening, took to Facebook describing the garden as a "safe and calm place" for children to learn.

Jess and Jo hope to be recognised by the Ministry of Education as an alternative learning environment in the future.

Their next goal is to get government funding, so they can run the programme five days week, working with numerous primary schools across Tauranga.


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