Sensory needs for learning helped by Tree Levy

Shelley Dempsey

Students get hands-on in the garden at Cabramatta West Public School

Students with special needs at Cabramatta West Public School are helping to grow a native garden at the school through the grant of a Tree Levy this year by Federation.

Support Unit teacher Shane Gordon, who is also Federation Representative at Cabramatta West Public School, said many of the students in the unit are on the autism spectrum, so the garden gives them time out of the four walls of the classroom in a space that is really calming to them. He applied for the grant and sourced the native plants from local nurseries.

Six-year-old kindergarten student Danny and eight-year-old
Year 2 student Makayla from the school’s Support Unit are two of the 24 young students caring for the garden and learning how to grow plants and keep them alive.

For half an hour a day, Support Unit students go to the garden to water or weed, and sometimes are allowed another half an hour as a special reward.

“They anticipate the time when they go out there and we see them really eager to get out there,” Mr Gordon said. “They are transformed because they really like this hands-on type of learning. It teaches them responsibility, and they are very proud of their plants.”

As the small trees get taller they will also help to cool the school rooms in hot weather. With the $400 Tree Levy funds granted this year, the school bought about 40 plants ranging from ground cover to small shrubs and shade trees.

Because the garden is ongoing and sustainable, it appeals to the children’s sense of pride in the school and they can identify what they contribute. “The garden benefits them in a really engaging way,” said Mr Gordon, who is also Vice-President of the Fairfield Association and a Federation Councillor.

“They engage in learning and firsthand they observe living things and learn about the life cycle of plants and the importance of conservation. They also get close to nature.”

Cabramatta West is one of five schools to receive a grant in 2016, which promotes the importance of environmental sustainability in schools.