C.E.S. students build organic garden at zoo


Student Kevin Luckhurst of Fairfield preps the soil for planting seeds.

Sixteen high school students in the Therapeutic Day Program at Cooperative Educational Services (C.E.S.) built a completely organic garden behind the greenhouse at Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo.

The project, which stemmed from the desire to broaden the student volunteers’ contributions to the zoo and enhance their vocational learning, was coordinated by volunteer coordinator Tracey Warren, zookeeper Jeanne Yuckienuz and C.E.S. Vocational Specialist John Buchbinder.

In October, students began prepping a plot of land for the garden. They installed a fence and built raised beds for planting the vegetables. A $2,000 grant from Unilever paid for the materials, organic soil and certified organic seeds used in the garden.

“Our students have been volunteering at the zoo for the past six years,” Buchbinder said. “As a result of our competent service, the zoo agreed to give us a project we could manage from beginning to end.”

Groups of four students work in the garden on a weekly basis. Some vegetables were started as tray seedlings and transferred to the beds, while others are being planted directly into the soil.

“The gardens at Beardsley serve multiple purposes,” said Yuckienuz,  project coordinator for the garden. “We have our sensory garden with different textures and smells, and the organic garden will be a wonderful educational tool. Visitors will be able to see the different vegetables as they grow, help harvest them when they are ready, and taste them, too.”

Throughout the project, students have gained valuable knowledge and skills related to gardening — from prepping and planting to vegetable varieties, watering and harvesting.

“Before the end of the school year, we plan to celebrate the success of the project at the zoo,” Buchbinder said. “Hopefully that will include a large salad made from all the vegetables grown by the students.”

The collaboration between Beardsley Zoo and C.E.S. began as an opportunity to create connections to the community and provide students with vocational skills training. C.E.S. has similar partnerships with a variety of organizations in the greater Bridgeport area.

The C.E.S. Special Education division serves approximately 320 students in school-based programs in Trumbull. Students present with a variety of social-emotional disorders and/or developmental disabilities. They are referred to C.E.S. through highly individualized needs assessments in their home school districts.

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