LAKEWOOD RANCH — As students of Pinnacle Academy scurried around with bags of dirt, hand shovels and other gardening equipment, they showed no hesitation about digging in — literally — to their newest project.
“I like it; I like feeling the soil,” 13-year-old Evan Kornblum said of his first time gardening. “I’m pretty sure (keeping it up) will be a lot of work.”
On Sept. 10, students in Melissa Mendiola’s class on got their first hands-on lesson in gardening at the school’s newest addition — a greenhouse. Under the direction of Pinnacle parent Patricia McKeithen, owner of McKeithen Growers tree farm, and her friend, Deb Lynch, students learned how to prepare soil, plant seeds and plants and other basics of gardening.
“It’s important for the kids to understand a love of the earth,” McKeithen said.
Pinnacle Academy is a private school for children with autism and related special needs. Founder and Director Dr. Kristina Ordetx said researchers still do not know the cause of autism and related conditions and why they are increasing but noted environmental toxins are one potential cause. To help protect children from exposure to chemicals, the school garden will use natural treatments for warding off harmful insects and for feeding plants.
Ordetx said her son saw tremendous improvement after he switched to an organic-only diet, in which plants are not exposed to chemicals.
In addition to their gardening duties, Pinnacle students will be researching concepts such as composting and natural pest-control options, which they will put into practice throughout the school year.
Additionally, having the students tend their own garden not only will teach them about caring for the land, but also it will help them overcome sensory and relational issues while encouraging them to eat more healthily, Ordetx said.
Ordetx said Pinnacle has wanted to start a greenhouse for about two years. After meeting with Rex Jensen, president and CEO of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, and Mac Carraway, president of its subsidiary, SMR Farms, Ordetx’s dream soon was fulfilled. A crew from SMR Farms came out to the school at the beginning of summer to install a greenhouse for the school.
Ordetx said children at Pinnacle are working on a mosaic plaque stone, which they will dedicate later this month to SMR Farms for its support.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].