Kennedy High special education students with severe disabilities helped transform a once-unappealing plot of the school campus into a pleasant garden, with help from special ed teacher Salvatore Morabito, woodshop teacher James Henderson and art teacher Steve Mainini.
The four-month project, which required nearly daily collaboration, led to a scenic space at the school’s entrance that is covered in woodships, with two raised beds with white and red roses, the Kennedy High colors. Also, the project features a new wall of fame recognizing dozens of successful Kennedy alumni, including Principal Philip Johnson and Mr. Mike Peritz, the former Kennedy teacher who has been a staunch advocate of the school for five decades. The wall of fame was built with help from Mainini, woodshop teacher James Henderson, and photography teacher Steven Pinto.
The new space also includes two free small libraries, a Kennedy Eagle mural and is surrounded by a redwood fence, said Morabito.
It was one of several campus projects accomplished by Kennedy High special ed students over the last seven years to beautify former eyesores. Morabito’s students, in collaboration with Mainini’s and Henderson’s students, have also transformed a plot facing Cutting Boulevard into a flower garden with eight flower raised beds, two tool sheds and three murals. Another garden near the football field was outfitted with 50 fruit tree Community Orchard, 10 picnic tables with benches, more than 100 tiles and 21 2’ x 4’ murals hanging on the fences, with loads of woodchips laid to reduce the need of weeding constantly.
“Our special ed gardening projects are part of our community-based instruction, and vocational skills which exposes our students to moderate exercises, cooperative skills, interpersonal skills and positive social interactions,” Morabito said. “It helps our students to identify with their school and they feel proud of their individual contribution. It also improves their life skills, including working with groups and self-understanding. Gardening offers our students a symbolic locus of school pride and spirit.”
The various Kennedy beautification projects would not have been possible without the numerous grants the school received from Philanthropic Ventures Foundation, the Chamberlin Family Foundation and Ed Fund, Morabito said.
Morabito gives a special shoutout to Henderson, who has spent countless hours of his prep time to teach his students vocational skills such as how to make fences, raise bed, small libraries and benches in addition to all his helpful suggestions.
“At times James would have the whole special ed classroom in his woodshop to teach all of us,” Morabito said. “He has even come on Saturdays to do some work for our projects. James is my hero-bar none.”
Above all, gardening is fun and is a skill that, once acquired, can be a lifelong recreational hobby or even provide a job as a gardener, Morabito added.