ESC nurtures learning skills with gardening unit

LEETONIA- Students in Leetonia are learning job skills while assisting the school.

The Columbiana County Educational Service Center’s unit for students with multiple disabilities is busy maintaining raised beds the students installed earlier this year. The nine students, the majority of whom reside in the Leetonia School District, learn job skills to help in their transition into the community upon graduation by working at community businesses, and have taken up gardening to supplement their learning.

“Gardening is just something we fell into at (job site) Goodness Grows (in North Lima),” said Kitty Kromer, unit teacher. “Organic and homegrown foods are getting popular in the area, and the state is requiring more fruits and vegetables for the students, so gardening fills a need.”

Kromer said the students are growing plants such as peas, spinach and lettuce, and that all products from the beds will be given to the school cafeteria.

At Goodness Grows the students, along with the Salem adult handicap program, In Christ’s Hands, operate a farm market with assistance from Kromer; her assistant, Sue Weaver; and the class’s paraprofessional, Leslie Wilson. Kromer said the market develops skills for finding a job and growing, harvesting and selling produce, as well as teaches communication, marketing and commerce skills.

The gardening program for the raised beds at the K-12 campus has been funded through a series of grants this year. Through, the class has secured items such as tools and a lighting stand; the Columbiana-Harrison-Carroll Solid Waste District has provided $500 for the garden and canning supplies for pepper jelly the students make and sell, plus $125 for small pizza gardens the students are helping the special needs and kindergarten classes grow; and Whole Foods has given a greenhouse that will be placed on school property.

Kromer acknowledged cooperation of school administration and staff for making the raised beds project a success.

“[Superintendent] Mr. [Rob] Mehno has gone out of his way to start the program on school grounds and has continued to support it,” she said. “Custodial staff has helped build the beds and take care of them during the summer.”

Kromer also recognized ME Lumber in Columbiana and Wilms Mulch and Topsoil in Leetonia for donating the original materials for the project.

According to Kromer, the ESC has had transition job sites for 20 years. This is the second year the ESC has had a unit at Leetonia, previously having been at Columbiana. Students have been placed at Sparkle Market in Columbiana, Pizza Hut in Columbiana and Das Dutch Haus. There are also two ESC programs at Salem and one in East Palestine.