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When special needs students participate in a unique gardening program, they expect success which improves from year to year.

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Last year at the Topsfield Fair,. Haverhill High School’ potatoes, tomatoes, and sunflowers won many first place ribbons. The students are looking to have even better results this year.

“Last year I helped plant beans, sunflowers, peppers, tomatoes and carrots,” said 17 year old Jerimiah Ayala.. “I love learning how to plant and grow food.”

Jeremiah receives hands on instruction in gardening along with 44 other special needs students, who also learn to cook what they harvest. Their teacher is Nancy Burke, an education support professional who began the garden program five years ago.

She and the students have transformed a neglected courtyard into a learning lab outdoors, which is wheelchair accessible, with raised beds and berry gardens. They have earned local, state and national recognition for their efforts.

“I like the gardening program because it gives me the skills I’ll need in life,” said Daniel Colon-Waldron, 17 “Someday I’d like to grow my own garden.”

Burke is at the forefront of the farm to school movement which supports garden based learning.”Across the country, the National Education Association and the Massachusetts Teachers Association are using our garden as an example for others to follow,” she said.

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