Herbs offer HOPE for Vincent Middle/High students

Published 2:06 pm Thursday, March 6, 2014

Vincent special needs students work with Ruth Driggers to plant herb seeds (Jon Goering/ For the Reporter)

Vincent special needs students work with Ruth Driggers to plant herb seeds (Jon Goering/ For the Reporter)

By GINNY COOPER / Staff Writer

VINCENT—Special needs students at Vincent Middle/High know Don and Ruth Driggers—owners of Vincent Gardens, a nursery within sight of the school—by heart.

“We’re buddies, right?” Driggers asks Josh Thomas, a seventh grader in the program.

“Right.” Thomas replies.

Almost once a week when the weather is nice, the kids grab hands and walk across the street to the nursery where they mix soil, plant bulbs and grow herbs from seed.

This planting is not just a fun school project; it is a job, which the students take very seriously.

Taziki’s owner Keith Richards pays the students market price for the basil, rosemary, oregano, cilantro and parsley they grow, and the students produce herbs for the Lee Branch and Liberty Park locations of the restaurant.

Richards often employs special needs students in his restaurants, and he helped create HOPE, which stands for Herbs Offering Personal Enrichment. The program at Vincent Middle/High is the pilot program of the project, but Richards, Moon and others hope to eventually expand the program to all Shelby County schools.

The money the kids earn from selling the herbs goes directly to things they want, teacher Jennifer Moon explains, and the kids help decide what to buy.

“The money goes into a school account, and we use it for things they want,” Moon said. “We take the kids on field trips, and we’ve bought three iPads for the classroom. Next, we’re going to AirWalk (Trampoline Park).”

Like many middle school class trips, the group immediately divides into boys and girls. The boys scoop the soil eagerly and examine the Driggers’ dump truck, while the girls are more interested in the fashion side of gardening.

“I always try to talk the girls into changing, but they want to look cute,” Moon said.

Though the kids enjoy the time in the sun and the field trips they earn with their herbs, the experience provides many other benefits, Moon said.

“The students with more significant needs have a hard time getting jobs. This is the first step,” Moon explained. “I wish people could see this program and see that these kids are capable. They have limitations, but they also have a lot of strengths.”