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Supporting Special Kids at Ocala School

Children dig their hands in for the first time

Students at Maplewood Elementary School in Ocala, FL participated in an exciting experience last fall which is still reaping benefits today. Students with special needs arrived at a school courtyard where they found raised planting beds waiting to be filled with an array of colorful flowers, scented plants, and caterpillar food-sources. What made this garden unique is that it was designed with special students in mind, so the beds came in different heights, and were placed over a paved surface that wheels can easily roll on, allowing access to kids who need assistive devices like wheelchairs and walkers. A slew of faculty and volunteers were on hand, ready to assist students with the project.

Not Your Average Garden 

Volunteers await the arrival of students , ready to let the planting begin!

The specially constructed planters allow students with wheelchairs and walkers, who couldn't normally access a garden, to roll right up and dig their hands in the dirt, planting everything butterflies need to complete a life cycle. The height of each bed can be adjusted to match the reach of each child, so everyone gets in on the fun! Maplewood's new planting beds are growing next to the school's vegetable garden, which inspired the idea for the butterfly garden, so pollinators attracted by the flowers can then be put to work pollinating crops as well.

Dr. Churi Burns Coordinates Special Project 

Local support provided by Marion County Master Gardeners and Mid-Florida Prosthetics & Orthotics

Dr. Churi Burns, a physical therapist at the school, realized that as fun and interesting as the vegetable garden is, not all her students could access it, and due to a variety of medical needs, some students with special dietary requirements wouldn't make the same connection with growing their own food that other children do. She developed a plan to bring gardening of a different sort to the school- a wheelchair-accessible butterfly garden for students to plant and nurture. Through her hard work, Dr. Burns got a grant to fund the project, guidance from the Marion County Master Gardeners, and additional support from community participants such as Mid-Florida Prosthetics & Orthotics.  

Butterflies in Progress 

Volunteers help a student wheel up to the flower bed to plant things like milkweed to feed Monarch butterfly caterpillars, and fragrant flowers for the butterflies themselves

On November 11, teachers, volunteers, parents, and kids came together, got dirty, and planted this special oasis for caterpillars and butterflies to thrive. Since then, students have watched for the appearance of eggs, followed the growth of tiny caterpillars, and kept their eyes peeled for chrysalises. This spring, although the school is closed and the students are home, some faculty have seen the emergence of a new generation of butterflies and shared the excitement on Facebook and Twitter!

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