Special Services Center going greenhouse

Published 5:36 pm Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Shelby County Schools Special Services Center is going green — greenhouse, that is.

When the center and the Linda Nolen Learning Center moved to the old Bradford Health Services building in Pelham off Shelby County 35 from the old location off Alabama 119 in Alabaster, the center was forced to leave behind its instructional greenhouse.

Although the former greenhouse was small and inadequate, it was used to its maximum potential by teachers and special needs students from seven schools.

“It was very limited in the time kids could be in there,” first-year instructional aide Cheri Brennan said.

That’s why the center is looking to build a greenhouse at the new location.

Brennan has taken over the greenhouse program, and she has done so with a bang.

Each week, Brennan dresses up as “The Plant Lady,” a persona she created so the kids know her, even though she’s new.

Brennan used to own a small garden center and got her degree in landscape design, so she was a natural fit for the position.

“She’s going to be wonderful,” said volunteer and former teacher Jack Williamson.

Williamson has worked with the special needs students since he retired five years ago, and he said the impact of the kids working a project to completion has a lasting effect.

In addition to working in the greenhouse, the students also have taken on woodworking and concrete projects.

“They are just absolutely elated at what they’ve done,” Williamson said. “You just can’t imagine how uplifting it is for them.”

And when the students see the completion of the work they’ve done, Williamson said it’s all worth it.

“They say, ‘This is what I did,’” Williamson said. “It gives them a sense of pride.”

Projects like the greenhouse and woodworking help increase the students’ communication and mobility skills, while also giving the teachers a good idea of how well the students will transition out of the school and into the real world.

Although the completion of the greenhouse is still some time away, Brennan is planning on getting the program off and running as soon as she can start planting some pansies.

Brennan will have the students at Pelham High School plant pansies around the school.

“They’ll take pride in it because they will see it everyday,” Brennan said.

From there, Brennan is hoping the program will eventually evolve into a business where the kids pot the plants, cultivate and then sell them.

Until then, Brennan and Williamson are asking for donations to help jump start the program, including monetary donations and gardening tools and supplies.

To make a donation, call Dr. Marla Aldrich or Dr. Susan Wiley at 682-5850.