A project to teach special education students at Vincent Middle/High School how to grow various herbs has grown into a wonderful partnership with local restaurant Taziki’s and its owner, Keith Richards.
Richards has partnering with the Shelby County School District and special education job coach Cindy Vinson to hire special education students at his restaurants. A past conversation between Vinson and Richards led to a new project idea called HOPE – Herbs Offering Personal Enrichment.
“The project started as an idea Keith Richards and I had,” explained Vinson. “The project is designed to assist our students with disabilities with extra job related skills. Vincent Middle/High was our pilot school, but we plan to expand it to Shelby County High and Montevallo High.”
Vinson said the students learn all aspects of running an herb business, with the assistance of their regular education peers. Students grow and harvest basil, rosemary, cilantro, and oregano, which Richards then purchases for use in his restaurants. The benefit for Richards is that he not only knows that his ingredients are fresh and locally grown, but he gets the added benefit of helping supply jobs and salaries for the students who work on the HOPE project.
“It is part of our community based instruction, where students with disabilities go into their local communities for hands-on, work-related experiences or job shadowing,” explained Vinson.
The next phase of the project will be the construction of a greenhouse that will also feature both special education and regular education students working in partnership.
Principal Joel Dixon said Ted Gipson’s Agriscience class will assist with the construction of the greenhouse once the foundation and other preparations for the building are completed by the school district’s Maintenance Department. Davion Singleton’s Career Preparation class and will also be assisting with the business elements of this effort by helping create business, accounting, and marketing plans.
“The greenhouse will really assist with growing the herbs. Some of them cannot withstand the cold weather or extreme heat,” Vinson said.
Special Education teacher Jennifer Moon shared that the school takes great pride in the program and the opportunities it is affording the students.
“Paid employement is one of the number one predicators of successful employment after high school for students with disabilities,” Moon said. “That is one of the things the HOPE project is doing for our students.”