Young Gardeners of East Islip

Thanks to the generosity of the Connetquot Elementary Parent Teacher Association and local charity EJ Autism, East Islip’s special education schoolchildren have experienced the magic of gardening.

The “Ground for Change” garden at East Islip High School, sponsored by EJ Autism, provides multifaceted value to the community. “The garden is meaningful in many ways,” explained EJ Autism founder Bea Huste-Petersen. “Each of the 12 beds was dedicated to a person, business or organization that had done something terrific for children in East Islip. The kids with disabilities did all the planting with the honorees. They watered the garden on Fridays in late spring and over the summer, and the summer school students harvested the veggies. We bagged them and then gave away a share to a couple of lucky people living in our community. In the late summer, when school started, the high-school kids used the veggies to cook with in their kitchen.”

“Our kids truly enjoyed the walk to the garden, watering the plants and picking all the vegetables that they had watched grow,” said Lisa Palmeri, an aide in Linda Kunsch’s special-needs class at Connetquot Elementary School. “They didn’t really enjoy eating the vegetables but seeing them grow, feeling them and smelling them were things they loved. Maybe next year they will decide tasting will be fun too!”

More recently, Kunsch’s class participated in the PTA’s Beautification Program, arranged by program chairperson Cindy Stauber. The children helped parent volunteers Kevin Michaels, Linda Centauro and Susanne Bradley dig holes and plant a section of new flowers on November 3, and are now continuing the program by watering the plants every other day with watering cans provided by the PTA. “My students are truly enjoying this experience and learning from this new responsibility,” said Kunsch. Additional planting will take place in spring 2012.