GREENFIELD — They hauled dirt, laid bricks and dropped rocks.
When J.B. Stephens Elementary School students return to school from spring break Monday, they’ll be greeted in their courtyard by a sensory garden, an educational tool to engage students’ five senses that educators say is especially helpful for those with sensory processing disorders.
J.B. Stephens Elementary School staff members and students, alongside volunteers from Greenfield’s Home Depot, spent part of spring break prepping the courtyard for flowers and herbs to be planted later this spring.
They dedicated eight hours to laying the foundation for the garden. In coming weeks, the Hancock County Master Gardeners will donate time planting the flowers, foliage and herbs that will grow there.
Leadership Hancock County solicits project ideas from area nonprofit organizations, businesses and schools to be tackled by members during its eight-month program.
Principal Matt Davis pitched the project to the organization, hoping a sensory garden at J.B. Stephens will encourage other schools to launch one.
“Too many of our kids don’t get outside enough,” Davis said. “We push technology, but it’s important they spend time outside, too.”
The garden includes two water features — students will hear waterfalls — plants they can touch, such as lamb’s ear, and herbs they can taste, like spearmint.
Teachers will be able to use the garden to complement their lessons, Davis said. The garden could be visited when they’re working on writing, reading or drawing assignments, but lessons could extend to science and other classes, too, educators say.
Third-grade teacher Lyndie Metz, who joined in on prepping for the garden, said she’s already thinking of ways to incorporate the area into her science curriculum.
Third-grade students learn about the plant structure and what plants need to grow. Metz said she might be able to help her students understand that portion of the curriculum by using the garden.
The school day is short, and time for science is limited, so she sometimes has to get creative to make those connections for students, she said, and the garden should make it easier.
The garden will be maintained by students and staff with help from the Master Gardeners, Davis said.
The project wouldn’t be possible without Home Depot’s help or Leadership Hancock County, Davis said.
The Home Depot Foundation, the charitable arm of the company with stores across the nation, provided the group a $1,300 grant to purchase the supplies needed to build the garden, including the soil, rocks, water features and a small shed to store equipment in.
Mike Edwards, an assistant store manager at Home Depot who volunteered his time this week to build the garden, said the company dedicates time and funding to support the communities surroundings its stores.
“We just want to give back,” he said.