Tucked away in the back corner of Luther Elementary School is a patch of flowers, vegetable garden and swings that brings a quiet and “whimsical” presence to the Fort Atkinson school.
The sensory garden is the brainchild of Luther school counselor Katie McIntyre, occupational therapist Katie Fortney and Megan Levake of the School District of Fort Atkinson’s Office of Instruction.
Last year, work got started on the garden after a $4,250 grant was given by the Fort Atkinson Community Foundation.
The garden is expected to provide a variety of benefits for the students at Luther.
McIntyre said they hope to have classrooms of students grow their own vegetables. Currently sprouting in the vegetable garden are brussel sprouts, cabbage, tomatoes and kohlrabi.
The garden also will be available as an outdoor classroom space — at least for part of the year.
“The hope is for classrooms to use it as an extra learning space,” McIntyre said.
The trio designed the garden so there’s enough seating in the courtyard for an entire class of students.
The garden especially will be useful for Fortney, who spends a lot of time working individually with students in her role as a therapist. She said the garden will allow her to get students out in the fresh air when they’re working together.
“I want to get students outside,” Fortney said. “I work one-on-one with students a lot, so I can use this space for therapy.”
Included in the garden is a path built by Fortney’s husband with a variety of textures and materials. There’s a section with sand, another with turf and one with cut-up tires. The different textures and feelings will be useful for Fortney’s therapy, she said.
“I’m hoping kids can take their shoes off and feel the path,” Fortney said.
The name of the garden comes from the decision to spark all the senses when you walk in, according to Fortney.
“We’re calling it a sensory garden,” Fortney said. “So we’re trying to include all the senses with the features.”
The flowers and plants use the sense of sight, the herbs and vegetables spark taste and smell, the walking path and some of the flowers were added to be touched and the sound of the birds and insects round out the five senses.
Even though there are all sorts of practical and educational uses for the garden, Fortney said they hope it can be used as a relaxing space for teachers and students.
“We wanted it to have a visual appeal,” Fortney said. “It’s a place for staff, but especially students to come out here, check out for a bit and have a snack.”
The three educators spent all summer working on making sure the garden met all their expectations and they struggled to point out a highlight.
“It’s hard to pick just one,” Levake said. “There are so many areas we’ve spent so much time on.”
While Levake, McIntyre and Fortney did most of the heavy lifting, other Luther and district staff members pitched in, as did a number of other community members. Beaver Tree Service helped remove trees from the courtyard and Lemke Fence provided the gate.
Plants were donated by Blodgett Garden Center and Fort Atkinson High School. The high school also built the benches in the garden.
The Luther Elementary School sensory garden will host an open house Thursday, Sept. 12, at 3:30 p.m.