It starts with a student planting a seed..

May 6, 2014 | Hope in the News

Then, along with the flowers and cucumbers, our students at The Hope Institute also begin to sprout in their own way after touching soil for possibly the first time and working in a group. Lead by teacher Toshi Maeda, students routinely help out in the greenhouse and outdoor garden with planting projects that include blackberries, tomatoes, garlic and asparagus. In late April, a handful of students helped Maeda plant apple trees near an outdoor basketball court and playground. Staff helped to gently guide their hands as they shoveled dirt over the young trees and watered them. And just like the trees, word of Maeda’s work has grown through the Springfield area. Slow Food Springfield, a group working to increase the amount of locally grown organic food, donated the nine apple trees to Hope. Last year, local food advocacy group Illinois Stewardship Alliance gifted two Asian pear trees and two apple trees. “It creates things for our students to do and gives them reason to go outside,” said Maeda, who hails from Japan and began working at Hope as a substitute teacher in September 2012 before leading his own class in early 2013. Maeda is always working on new ways to keep students engaged while also teaching them new skills. “I was trying to create as many activities as possible,” he added. “I guess I wanted to do this because I enjoy working outside also.” Like all staff, Maeda is extremely patient with our students and loves to encourage them to reach their full potential. Maeda says the greenhouse and garden has a calming effect on the children and helps them socialize, as well as empowers them to take part in other activities. “The gardens have been great for our programs and students,” said Principal Cliff Hathaway. Veggies grown on campus, along with goodies prepared by high-functioning students at Noll Cafe’, are sold during the summer at the Old Capitol Farmers Market in downtown Springfield. The initiative ultimately helps connect The Hope Institute with the community in a healthy, personal way. Hope art specialist Wendy Scott said there are many therapeutic benefits to students who participate in gardening. “Physically, our students are able to maintain the garden,” she said. “Cognitively, they are able to explore the process of these activities, and socially they are able to work as a group.” And while the plants, veggies and trees continue to grow, another change–that is not so easy to see–often occurs inside our students. “The anticipation of planting a seed and watching it grow touches on our ability to hope,” she said. “Our children look forward to seeing what becomes of that little seed; and they are part of the process from start to finish.”

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