The school year at Miami Sunset High School in West Kendall started with a project that students can really dig.
A vision of Erin Cernuda and her co-workers, the project is called, “Growing an Inclusive Classroom.” The classroom they are creating is a not-so-ordinary nod to outdoor school classrooms.
Cernuda, Sunset’s head athletic trainer, has an office on the same wing as the exceptional education department. As Cernuda became friends with her co-workers on the wing, she became aware of the needs and challenges of exceptional education students. After much thought, the teachers worked together to plan out the inclusive classroom concept and get it on its way to implementation.
“As educators, we came together and decided that we needed to create a facility that is worthy of our creative and inspiring students, and we think this outdoor classroom will be just that,” Cernuda said.
While having an outdoor classroom is not unusual for schools, what is unique is that this classroom is focused on the sensory needs of Sunset’s 200 exceptional education students. These students will enjoy the opportunity to learn outside four walls and use all five senses while experiencing the simple but effective hands-on approach to their curriculum. The focus on their senses will let the students develop a stronger use of their abilities as well as allow for the expansion of their more creative talents.
Access for the garden-in-process is not limited and students from the entire school will be able to enjoy the planting areas, shaded meeting space and experimental horticulture area. The student-centered approach to the classroom will allow the entire student body to participate alongside the exceptional education students as the garden pieces are put into place.
Cernuda’s enthusiasm for the project spills over into her everyday life. At a recent community event, she was thrilled to speak about the project.
“The biggest thing that I would want to express to anyone interested in our project is this: These students are amazing,” she said. “These kids are energetic, fun, outgoing and constantly smiling. These students need a dedicated learning space that is inclusive and unique and will allow them to learn both academic content along with other important things like interpersonal communication and teamwork.”
The summer was spent on fundraising for the project as there are many components needed to bring the garden to life. Notably, the project team recently was awarded a grant from the Miami-Kendall Rotary Club to enable the purchase of much-needed supplies. In spite of the Rotary grant and other fund raising, the garden is approximately $5,000 dollars away from completion. Other items needed for the garden include a shade house, rolling plant benches, a proper irrigation system, student seating, rain barrels, plants, paint and even bags of soil. They want to use reclaimed water and teach the ecological importance of being wise stewards of natural resources.
To learn more about the Inclusive Classroom or to donate, call Erin Cernuda at 786-525-0360 or send email to her at Ecernuda@dadeschools.net.