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Special Olympics Aroostook Appoints New Volunteer Head Coach

Presque Isle -

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The Opportunity Training Center and Maine School Administrative District #1 have collaborated for the past five years in order to allow OTC students to benefit by being involved in a hands-on horticulture experience as a part of their educational programming.

As one of the eight programs housed by Central Aroostook ARC, a non-profit organization dedicated to serving those with developmental disabilities, the Opportunity Training Center is able to offer children a varied and individualized curriculum due to their low student to teacher ratio, and programs focus on activities and skills to promote students’ integration into the community. The collaborative project between the school farm and OTC is a great way for students to develop academically in a dynamic that’s not typically found in a classroom.

Every week during the school year, two OTC classes with students as young as age eight, visit the MSAD #1 Educational Farm on State Street in Presque Isle to learn hands-on horticultural skills. Classes spend about an hour at the orchard each visit and learn all the processes of plant and vegetable care; they work both outside in the orchards as well as in the farm’s greenhouse. Students even learn about hydroponics, which is the cultivation of plants using a nutrient solution instead of soil.

The program is set up to include everything from preparing soil and packing pots to harvesting the vegetables. Milford Helton, an OTC student who has gone to Horticulture class since its inception, shares, “What I like about horticulture is picking tomatoes off the vine and picking apples. That’s my favorite thing to do… I also don’t mind cleaning up after we get done.”

Initiation of this collaborative project came about when an OTC class took a field trip to the farm in fall of 2006 and it was mentioned to the Farm Manager, Aaron Buzza, that the students would love doing some hands-on learning on-site. From there Steve Richard, Executive Director of Central Aroostook ARC, spoke with MSAD1 Superintendent Dr. Gehrig Johnson and the Director of Presque Isle Technical and Career Center, Larry Fox, and the rest is history.

“The first-hand knowledge gained from our horticulture classes at the School Farm has been invaluable to our students,” says OTC educational technician Tracy LeVausser, who serves as the liaison between OTC teachers and Buzza, the farm’s manager. “Being able to be fully immersed in the subject area has made all the difference in the world for some of the participants. Concepts and processes that the students have only read about become clarified through this enriching experience. This is a unique program, and we are very grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with Mr. Buzza and his staff each week.”

When asked his thoughts on the collaboration, Buzza’s initial response is, “Those kids are awesome!” As the farm manager, Buzza is proud to see the farm operate as a learning lab for students of all ages and says it has been a rewarding process to see the students gain knowledge of plant and vegetable care through hands-on learning.

“OTC students understand they are welcome and needed at the farm, and are always more than happy to be here,” says Buzza. Oftentimes the class will be broken up into four or five groups, each with their own task to do while there. “They stay on task well, need minimal redirection and truly do a great job.” He also reports how great it is to see the students learn the value of teamwork by helping out one another with tasks, proving how often they think beyond themselves.

The Educational Farm opened in 1991 and has been a field of opportunity for the students and the community. Originally with only seven students employed, the farm now employs approximately 40 students. The farm sits on 38 acres of land owned by MSAD#1, and is not only a true “learning lab” for local students, but also provides fresh produce for the school and local community.

For more information on the MSAD#1 Educational Farm, visit www.sad1.org/schoolfarm/ or call 764-7725. To learn more about Central Aroostook ARC and the Opportunity Training Center, please call 764-0134 or visit www.caarc.com.

For More Information:

Contact Name: Paula Perkins

Telephone Number: (207)764-0134

Website: http://caarc.com

Email: aasp@ainop.com