FLORENCE, S.C. − Theodore Lester Elementary School has created a garden program to honor the late Susie Bennett, a former staff member.
Bennett worked as the Autism Coordinator and student advocate at Lester Elementary for several years.
“My mom loved lots of things − the mountaineers, the beach, the Home Shopping Network − but her passions were children with autism and gardening. To see all this come together, I’m so honored,” Erin Deering, her daughter, said during the garden’s dedication.
“I’m blown away with the love they have for her and the way they came together and put this together in just a couple of months,” Deering said.
Jessica Crowson, an event coordinator, STEM Lab Teacher and Coach, is one of two movers and shakers behind the garden at Lester Elementary.
“Ms. Bennett holds a special place in our hearts and in the hearts of so many in our community,” Crowson said. “Gardening and children were two of Susie’s passions.”
Crowson said the garden program will be designed to fit the needs of all of Lester’s students and that the program will have many different elements to allow the students to have hands-on gardening experiences.
Approximately one-third of Theodore Lester’s students are on the autism spectrum, Crowson said.
“The garden has several raised beds where students will learn how to grow a variety of fruits and vegetables throughout the school year,” Crowson said. “It also features an herb garden where students will use their senses to learn about different types of herbs. There is also a succulent garden that teaches students about plants that have different needs than most plants.
The garden also has a hydroponics lab where each of the grade levels will have their own part in growing plants using formulated, nutrient-rich water instead of soil, and fun sensory elements including fairy gardens, a butterfly hunt and a sensory pathway, Crowson said.
“We want this to be a great learning opportunity for all of our students, while also honoring a truly amazing woman who gave her heart and soul to the students in Florence One Schools,” she said.
Crowson said they will cook fruits and vegetables.
“We’ll be teaching them how to take a squash, cut it up and make parmesan squash with them,” she said.
Fruits, vegetables and herbs are growing in five raised beds, said Makayla Bailey, a kindergarten teacher and the other coordinator of the garden program.
“Inside our colorful tires we have many different types of herbs that children will be able to feel, smell and even taste,” she said. “We plan to use all the fruits, vegetables and herbs in our garden in cooking activities with our students.”