A new greenhouse at Lake Zurich High School will help special education students work on their green thumb and teach them a wider range of skills, school officials said.

On Monday, the school unveiled a full-service greenhouse that primarily will expose Lake Zurich students between 18 and 22 years old, who are transitioning from a special education program into adulthood, to gardening, green initiatives, nutrition, healthy living and community involvement, said Jean Malek, spokeswoman for Lake Zurich Community Unit School District 95.

“This is the first greenhouse project of its kind with the integration of students with special needs having the opportunity to grow and sell organic plants and produce,” Malek said.

The idea to build a greenhouse came from Susan Coleman, district assistant superintendent for student services, who said her previous employer — Warren Township High School in Gurnee — operated one for students. The School District 95 Educational Foundation donated $20,000, enough money to build a much larger greenhouse than at Warren, Coleman said.

“We poured concrete,” she said. “It’s a much bigger operation. It can be heated year round. It’s got fully functioning heating, electricity and water. We’ll be able to use it all year round.”

District 95 also partnered with master gardeners at the University of Illinois Extension program to provide training and education for students, while the education department at the Chicago Botanic Garden is training teachers, Coleman said.

Experiences and skills taught at the greenhouse align with many of the objectives of the special education transition program, including lifelong learning, vocational experience and greater independence, Malek said.

The greenhouse will give those students opportunities to work in horticulture or agriculture to eventually find jobs or possibly start their own businesses, Coleman said.

“Historically, few jobs will accept people with disabilities,” she said. “This allows a greater opportunity to choose a field they’re interested in, instead of a very small pool of opportunities. We want to provide a wealth of experiences so they can choose the path they want. The more opportunities we provide, the greater the choices they have and the more independent they can be.”

In just the first few days of operations this week, students were learning to grow vegetables, Coleman said.

“We have picked vegetables that they can use the yield from to make foods in the cooking portion of the program,” she said. “Ideally, we want to help them bring them from the farm to the table.”

Phil Rockrohr is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.

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