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Innovative Educator: Boise teacher helps students bloom in special garden

Teacher Lorien Oberlander has her ASCENT students growing a garden that's helping them grow, too.

BOISE, Idaho — Editor's note: This content is sponsored by Idaho CapEd Credit Union.

A good-sized garden graces the grounds outside the ASCENT Program building in the Boise School District, with a bounty of fruits, vegetables and flowers growing inside.

Special education teacher Lorien Oberlander rattled off the list: "Brussels sprouts, kale, amaranth, pears, potatoes, carrots, peppers, violas, which are edible, watermelons,"

Oberlander says the ASCENT Program is for 7-12 graders who have had behavioral challenges in a larger school environment.

"It's an environment where they get a little more one on one attention that they really need," she said.

The kids give a lot of attention to the garden. They water and prune.

"Well, so I pruned them (grape vines) to make it to where they don't stick out in the aisle like this one," student Landin said, explaining the work he did.

They dig.

Student Dustin says his favorite part is "probably the digging and laying down the compost for the bed."

And they eat!

"The garden is a lovely place where you can pick fruit and vegetables and take it home," student Hailey said.

Oberlander says it's a farm to table garden. The students eat and cook with most of the produce grown here.

She has been tending the garden and nurturing students in it since 2008.

"At ASCENT these kids have really struggled in their past, and I want school to be a place that brings them light and joy and feel safe," Oberlander said.

The garden is a seed sanctuary and a kid sanctuary.

"It's a safe place," student Makyra said. "If you want to come out here and sniff flowers or do gardening work, do it, or eat grapes or eat tomatoes or anything, you can do it."

"I enjoy the peacefulness and the quiet," Hailey said.

"Honestly, it's really pleasant. Though in the wintertime it's really rough," student Sean said.

Oberlander digs into the science, too. She focuses on topics including plant bacteria, the properties of soil and the importance of pollinators.

"We like to plant these carrots to make sure that the pollinators can get enough honey to protect their hives," student Sean pointed out.

As the plants grow, the students' self-esteem grows, and so does their real-life, resume-building skillset.

"They are harvesting plants. They are planting plants. They are cooking food. They are cleaning up from food and they are serving people the food that they make, and that's just so many skills right there," Oberlander said.

Ultimately, Oberlander sees many students bloom.

"I've seen the most amazing transformations of quiet, withdrawn kids in the classroom come into the garden and have tremendous leadership," Oberlander said.

Growing just like their garden because of Innovative Educator Lorien Oberlander.

If you would like to nominate a teacher who is going above and beyond, send us an email to innovativeeducator@ktvb.com.
Educators, for more information on submitting an application for a classroom grant through the Idaho CapEd Foundation, click here.

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