A new program at the Elm Acres school is aimed at getting its students more involved in service-oriented learning.

A new program at the Elm Acres school is aimed at getting its students more involved in service-oriented learning.

According to learning facilitator Jessica Brown, who started the project, students are involved in outdoor activities that teach them the value and fun of learning. The most visible manifestation is the new garden, planted in April, on the campus lawn facing Rouse Street.

“They wanted to grow things,” Brown said Wednesday as she pointed out the various vegetable plants poking through the soil. “And they wanted to do something that gives back to the community.”

Elm Acres students come from around Kansas, many of them from the larger cities such as Wichita, and have been removed from their homes for various reasons. In many cases, Brown said, the students have never been exposed to activities such as gardening.

“Most of them haven’t had a chance in their own families to do something like this,” Elm Acres Director Kit Parks said of the school’s 30 residents. “They’re very excited about it.”

The program incorporates what Brown calls “sneaky learning.” The kids planned the whole garden themselves, and used math and writing skills they have learned at Elm Acres.

“They also learned that you need to research before you do something,” Brown said. “And they learned how to problem solve and improvise, because everything you do doesn’t always go as you want it to.”

The students also painted a mural that currently is hanging in the Carrington Place assisted living facility across from Pittsburg High School.

“They wanted to make the mural like a puzzle, because they’re all a piece of this program,” Brown said. The mural will be displayed in Meadowbrook Mall in July, and then at the Pittsburg Public Library in August.

Community members have gotten involved to help teach the kids about landscaping and building things for themselves, and Brown said the program has helped to reach some of the most closed-off students.

“Some of the students I didn’t see a lot of have gotten involved,” Brown said. “You see a whole different side of them.”

Brown hopes to grow the garden, but said it’s unlikely that the grants she used to fund it will be available next year.

“We hope our community partners will help out,” she said.

The program also gives the kids some much-needed confidence.

“It’s not about the outcome, it’s more about the process,” Brown said. “They’ve worked so hard and they’re so proud of what they’ve done.”