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Students Learn as They Plant a Garden

Special needs pupils get a chance to experience the joy and discovery of gardening.

Digging up a little dirt, planting seedlings, providing water and watching them grow in your very own garden is a happy, healthy learning experience for all children. 

Students with special needs, ages 6 to 18, got a chance to experience the joy and discovery that comes from planting a garden when the American Heart Association, with the support of Dole Food Company, last week donated a Teaching Garden to Northpoint School at 9650 Zelzah Ave. in Northridge.

The Teaching Garden provides a hands-on learning experience rooted in offering nutritional choices. It is a real-life laboratory where students learn how to plant seeds, nurture the growing plants, harvest the food and, ultimately, understand the connection between the environment and their health. 

Teaching Gardens have been donated to more than 100 schools nationwide.  This Teaching Garden will be the first to be placed in a school for children with special needs. 

The building and planting of the garden is just one of the fun activities the children experienced.  They also got a visit from Teaching Garden founder Kelly Meyer and actresses Shelly Buckner of the TV series That’s So Raven and Mahaley Hessam of The Secret Life of the American Teenager.

To complement the Teaching Garden’s lessons on healthy eating habits, the kids were led through fitness and sports activities to place a highlight on fitness.  Liza Utter-Pernice, a local restaurateur and chef, provided a cooking demonstration so the children will have lots of recipe ideas once their garden is ready for harvest.

Childhood obesity is at epidemic levels.  Today, one in three American children is overweight or obese.  To combat this growing crisis, the Child and Family Guidance Center is implementing health and fitness aspects into many of its programs, which provide mental health services to local children and families who have experienced emotional and mental illnesses, abuse, neglect or trauma. 

“We thank the American Heart Association and Dole Food Company for providing this Teaching Garden to the children at Northpoint School," said Rick Hunnwell, school director.  “Within our community, we are fighting the causes and effects of childhood obesity and related illnesses.  This garden is giving our children with special needs the tools they need to win that fight, just like all children deserve.”

The Teaching Gardens were created using American Heart Association science and nutrition guidelines coupled with information from gardening and education experts.  The program combines nutrition education with garden-based learning. Numerous studies have shown participation in school garden programs can have a positive impact on student's attitudes toward fruits and vegetables and that healthy behavior positively impacts learning. The goal of the program is to improve children's overall health.

The Child and Family Guidance Center’s Northpoint School is a non-public school and intensive outpatient program for students ages 6 through 18 with emotional and/or behavioral problems whose needs cannot be met in regular schools. Northpoint combines academic instruction and individual, group and family therapy with a broad spectrum of specialized services. The focus is on developing each student’s unique strengths and abilities, resolving specific difficulties, re-integrating students into community schools and/or awarding them with a high school diploma. 

The Child and Family Guidance Center is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1962.  For nearly 50 years, the Center has provided high-quality mental health care, supportive social services and linkages to needed community resources.

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