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  Jakob Martin, a student in the Lamphere Adult Transition Program, waters plants in the greenhouse attached to Lamphere High.

Jakob Martin, a student in the Lamphere Adult Transition Program, waters plants in the greenhouse attached to Lamphere High.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Special needs students learn skills at Lamphere High’s greenhouse

Volunteers sought to help

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published June 14, 2019

 Potatoes are grown in the greenhouse at Lamphere High.

Potatoes are grown in the greenhouse at Lamphere High.

Photo by Deb Jacques


MADISON HEIGHTS — The greenhouse attached to Lamphere High School is finding new use as a learning space for special needs students.  

The Lamphere Adult Transition Program, or LATP, is a post-secondary life skills and vocational program that serves young adults ages 18-26 with a development disability or cognitive impairment who reside in the Lamphere school district and who have not received a high school diploma.

Their classroom is at the Lamphere Center, which shares a building with Page Middle School.  

“Each student is provided opportunities to learn how their unique strengths and interests can lead to a successful transition from school to adult life,” said Sue Kellner, a LATP teacher.

But now they, along with the special needs students at Lamphere High, have been visiting the greenhouse on the south side of the high school, located at 610 W. 13 Mile Road.

Other than the door and the sink, the rest of the walls of the greenhouse support raised beds to grow plants. Several barrels in the hallway leading to the greenhouse contain hoses and potting soil, and there is also a shelving unit housing a variety of tools.

Traditionally, the greenhouse has been used solely by Lamphere High’s science department. Now, the LATP students work there two mornings each week, with duties such as planting, watering, pruning, cleaning and harvesting.

“The greenhouse allows us to address a number of critical life skill areas, (including) job skills, natural science, nutrition and food preparation,” Kellner said.

The LATP students are there through a program that places students at job sites in the community to develop work skills.

There are also special needs students within Lamphere High, led by teacher Tara Deneau, who are enrolled in a similar program but do not leave the school. These students have mild to moderate cognitive impairments and are assigned jobs within the building to complete each week, including jobs at the greenhouse.

The new greenhouse initiative is funded by a $1,000 grant awarded by the MSU Extension at the Michigan State University College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. The money helps provide basic supplies such as dirt, seeds, containers and tools. The program is also looking to develop a compost bin, which will be designed in part with technical assistance provided by the MSU Extension.

Some of the grant money will also go to educational opportunities for both staff and students. The group is planning to participate in an MSU Extension program this fall at Tollgate Farm and Education Center in Novi. The greenhouse initiative follows a plan that was developed in part by community members of Madison Heights. Volunteers are needed to help out.

“We are open to all volunteers and will be able to accommodate all levels of commitment,” Kellner said. “I would truly love to see Scout troops, faith-based groups or other youth organizations get involved.

“The short-term goal is to make the greenhouse truly functional again,” she continued. “The long-term goals include a more structured garden-to-table program, including healthy food preparation; a community garden partnership; and a formalized entrepreneurial business selling plants, flowers and produce.”  

Deneau said the students’ passion has been inspiring. She hopes to see similar engagement from the community.

“The benefits are twofold,” Deneau explained. “First, by having adults share this experience with us, my students have valuable opportunities to meet members of their community and practice much-needed social skills. They are generally very shy and timid, and it’s my hope that this would enable them to open up and meet new people, and find value in gaining information from others in their own community.

“Secondly, I would encourage any master gardeners or experienced gardeners to come in and teach our students something new about this newfound hobby and skill,” she said. “I feel strongly that what my students are learning will continue to be utilized to enrich their own lives in the future.”

Kellner said the program has proven to have “incredible emotional benefits” for the students.

“Upon returning from work, the students are eager to share both their success and disasters,” Kellner said. “Our first harvest, a single cherry tomato, brought beaming smiles and bragging rights. Curiosity about how things grow, as well as excitement about what can be planted next, often have staff scrambling to keep up with their enthusiasm.”

Added Deneau: “Watching the students pluck their vegetables from the soil and their faces light up with amazement was a highlight of my career. They were proud to show off their harvest … and they displayed genuine happiness. Now that is motivation to sustain this project and improve upon it in the coming months and years.”

If you would like to learn more about volunteering with the special needs greenhouse program, call Sue Kellner at (248) 568-3708.