'Growth' a key word for ORR transition class

Oct 6, 2017

The transition class at Old Rochester Regional High School continues to grow, and not just in size and ability. The class's garden is now expanding beyond leafy greens as well.

The class, made up of special education students ages 18 to 22, who learn work, life and social skills, is in its second year. After the group began by operating a coffee cart, it has now grown to include the EmpowORR garden.

Teacher Becky Okolita received approval from the School Committee last April to use a 30-by-90-foot space behind ORR. After the approval, Okolita got started right away.

“One weekend last May we had teachers, parents and community members building and planting,” she said. “It was a nice day.”

After maintaining the garden all summer, students were ready to learn gardening skills when they returned to school in August.

“We accomplished a lot,” Okolita said. “We did a lot of vocational training. The kids learned to water, to pick weeds and not plants, when to pick the vegetables…”

The group grew tomatoes, beans, peppers, cucumbers and pumpkins.

“We were selling our vegetables during open house and at the [coffee cart],” Okolita said. “Right now it’s just for faculty and staff, but we want to grow.

Okolita’s hope is to get other departments involved, as she said learning about gardening had brought up a lot of science questions. She also hopes to be able to sell produce at the Old Rochester Farmers Market that takes place on campus every Tuesday, from 3-6 p.m.

But for right now, Okolita is just focusing on helping students get the most out of the garden. “It’s their own job that they get to do, and that that’s the goal of this type of learning,” she said.

The students have also enjoyed the fruits of their labor, using the produce to make food.

“We’ve made garden salads, a BLT, salsa,” Okolita said. “Kids who haven’t tried tomatoes before are now trying them.”