Serenity soon: Options school adding peaceful gardens

Tranquility, vegetables to grow outside alternative school

Posted 8/6/18

Kerry Nixon wants to help kids grow. Nixon, a science teacher at the Options Secondary Program school, is hard at work on a pair of gardens at the school: one where students will grow vegetables for …

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Serenity soon: Options school adding peaceful gardens

Tranquility, vegetables to grow outside alternative school

Posted

Kerry Nixon wants to help kids grow.

Nixon, a science teacher at the Options Secondary Program school, is hard at work on a pair of gardens at the school: one where students will grow vegetables for the school’s kitchen, and another where she hopes students will grow emotionally by developing healthy skills to cope with stress.

“I call them the tranquility and serenity gardens,” Nixon said, standing amidst a throng of volunteers spreading soil and assembling raised beds.

The serenity garden is intended to be a place where stressed-out students can come to cool down, Nixon said. Its centerpiece is a large “labyrinth” path, designed to be walked slowly and meditatively to its center. Surrounding the labyrinth, Nixon plans a handbuilt waterfall, a memorial garden to remember students who have died, and eventually an outdoor classroom with picnic tables and pergolas.

“Students often ask to go outside and just walk around the running track, but we can’t see them from inside the school when they go there,” Nixon said. “Walking the labyrinth, or just sitting in the garden, we can keep our eye on them.”

Nixon said the serenity garden dovetails with Options’ goal of supporting student mental health.

“Students come here because they weren’t thriving at their regular school, for a variety of reasons,” Nixon said. “Mental health has been a huge focus of ours — when students come here, they take a mindfulness course, and we have a mindfulness room for them to cool down in. This garden helps augment that.”

The garden project’s other component, the veggie garden, will go a long way toward improving the quality of school lunches, Nixon said.

“The kids really want healthy food for lunch,” Nixon said. “We finally got a salad bar, but it’s mostly iceberg lettuce and stuff. We said: Why can’t we just grow our own?”

The tranquility garden will include a greenhouse to grow vegetables year-round, she said.

Nixon conceived the project after finding out that the school had received a $20,000 grant as part of a district-wide bond package passed several years ago. But much of the materials and labor are coming from what she called unexpected sources: employees of four Lowe’s home improvement stores are donating materials and labor to the project as part of a company initiative to assist with community projects.

“It’s a way for us to reach out,” said Jason Cottle, a Lowe’s manager helping with the project. “Sometimes we work with schools, sometimes it’s substance abuse centers, sometimes it’s projects for the homeless. We like giving back.”

Nixon received another major break from O’Toole’s Garden Center, which is donating all of the project’s shrubs and plants. Others contributed, too: Santa Fe Sand & Gravel gave a price break on mulch and soil, and King Soopers and Costco donated gift cards.

The project is a great opportunity for students, said Options student Sarah Buckingham, soon to be a senior.

“So many kids here feel so restrained and can’t do work because they can’t focus in a classroom,” Buckingham said. “Even if we just come out and hang out outside, it’s more open to opportunity than being forced into a tiny dark room.”

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