Santa Barbara- S County

New Special Education Program at Pioneer Valley Providing Students New Opportunities

Students learning self-sufficiency through new outdoor garden and workshop


SANTA MARIA, Calif. - There's something growing at Pioneer Valley High School, and its building valuable skills for special education students.

"I really wanted to get the kids re-engaged with working with things, building things and putting stuff together," said special education teacher Jesse Grimm.

Hoping to give his students important hands-on education, Grimm received full support from administration, and created a new transitional class that started at the beginning of the school year.

"As the kids start getting older, we're trying to give them real world job skills, and we're kind of starting from the bottom with how does a drill get used, how does a plant grow, how do we take pieces of wood and manipulate them, and cut them and put them together and actually make something," said Grimm.

Grimm adds the class allows students to push the envelope a bit and participate in a class that some might think is "out of the box."

"Let's get a kid who is completely blind and put them on a chop saw. That makes a lot of people scared, but that makes me excited to give that kid the opportunity to do it," said Grimm.

Students say they truly enjoy and appreciate the new experiences they're now able to pursue.

"I kind of feel like people with disabilities have the right to do stuff like this, especially with people with poor eyesight or visual impairment," said student Jose Damian.

Students are in charge of a garden and small workshop, which takes them out of a traditional classroom setting, and into an exciting learning environment.

"I do like it," said student GJ Ramos. "You get to experience news things, like putting soil in the pots and watering plants."

The students have built everything in the garden, including planter's boxes and two greenhouses. It shows you the practical skills they've acquired in the program.

"It lets you kind of feel like you're working at an actual job," said Damian. "There will be times where I may have the opportunity, and this is just a little example of what I can do."

The knowledge they're gaining through the various duties in the class gives students a chance to build confidence, independence, and real world experience.

"Getting your hands on the equipment that we use out here is pretty important for them to just kind of understand how to put together projects, critical thinking skills, understanding what it's like to work on a job site," said Grimm.

Grimm notes each day begins with a "daily tailgate," which is a briefing to relay important safety rules and lessons. He notes the talk is to make sure students are extremely mindful of safety while working in the garden, particularly when handling potentially dangerous tools.

He adds the program has already received a handful of community donations to help with funding. Several grant applications have also been sent out with the hope of securing more funds to further enhance the class in future years.

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