Counselor Education Students Plant School Garden and Cultivate Minds

Marriage, couple, and family therapy graduate students mentored young gardeners while hoeing soil, sowing seeds, and creating a vegetable garden during Project Grow at Carillon Elementary School.

Counselor Education Assistant Professor Dr. Viki Kelchner established the gardening program to prepare the students to work with families who have children with unique abilities.

Project Grow allowed our college’s students to have an opportunity to collaborate with Pre-K and kindergarten children with unique abilities and their PALS Program (Peer Assistance and Leadership) fifth grade mentors while drawing vegetable symbols on water jugs and planting beans, peppers, carrots, lettuce, and tomatoes in flower beds during this hands-on, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) activity.

The school grew a bounty of vegetables throughout the spring, prepared dishes in the classroom, and shared the harvest with the children’s families.

The gardening program has provided our college’s students with confidence when working with children with unique abilities.

“Project Grow has broken down barriers and has helped our Counselor Education students to be better prepared to work with individuals with unique abilities,” said Dr. Kelchner.

As a result, the experience triggered an interest in our Counselor Education graduate students to work with UCF students with intellectual disabilities.

Counselor Education students have also been providing free after school counseling services to K-5 children and their families at Midway Elementary School under the supervision of Counselor Education Assistant Professor Dr. J. Richelle Joe and Hamilton Elementary School under the supervision of Dr. Kelchner. Our college’s students will also be providing family, individual, and mental health services to Pine Crest Elementary School next year. Dr. Glenn Lambie, Counselor Education Professor, established this school-based counseling initiative with Seminole County Public Schools in hopes of providing much needed services to families and youth within their community.

During the program, Dr. Kelchner implemented bibliotherapy as an adjunct to counseling, a method that uses books and other forms of media to assist in achieving counseling goals while increasing mental health literacy. The book selections were based on the children’s main concerns and issues. The families took books home, which promoted family engagement and encouraged reading within the home.

Other activities included participating in Hamilton’s community STEM night and helping pack food for children to take home during the weekends.

At the end of the school year, the Counselor Education students provided children and families with certificates based on qualities like Best Reader and Best Sense of Humor that they observed at both schools.

Dr. Kelchner said the program integrates the Counselor Education graduate students into a school environment and provides them with invaluable, real-world knowledge.

“This project is helping to facilitate that learning of working systemically with all of the parts of a school and is providing families with help, so they can grow, learn, and love.”