Dr. Atamian shows students how to plant seeds.

Dr. Atamian shows students how to plant seeds.

During the spring and summer 2019 Agriculture Outreach program provided hands-on farming experience to 8 Orange High School (OHS) students from the Special Education Department in the class of Mr. Damian Paez. Head of the Agriculture Outreach Program is Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Hagop Atamian, Ph.D. The goal of this program is to teach agriculture to high school students with learning disabilities through interactive lessons and field trips. Over a period of 3 months, the students grew their vegetables from seeds and served them in their school after harvest.

“My students truly benefited from this experience as many of them did not fully understand where their food comes from and how it is grown and harvested. It was also exciting to see how willing they were to eat new vegetables that they previously had not tried or were otherwise unwilling to eat.” – Mr. Damian Paez, Orange High School special education teacher

It all started with a fun class activity at OHS in April. After a brief PowerPoint lecture, students were asked to match the plant pictures from the lecture with actual seedlings in trays. The activity was followed by planting seeds from 9 vegetables in trays filled with potting soil.

Students planting seedlings

Students planting their seedlings at South Coast Research & Extension Center in Irvine, CA

Next on the agenda was a field trip to South Coast Research & Extension Center in Irvine, CA. Two weeks after planting the seeds, the students transplanted the germinated seedlings into the field and hand-watered them.

“Being out of the classroom was an enjoyable experience for these students. They didn’t mind getting their hands dirty. I could feel their enthusiasm as they ran up and down the field with seedlings in their hands.” – Dr. Hagop Atamian

Towards the end of the academic year, they held their second field trip to harvest the fruits of their labor. This was the most exciting part of the program for the students. Some of them were overly excited to see the barren piece of land filled with lush greenery.

“[Dr. Atamian’s] lesson was brought to life as we germinated the seeds, transplanted the seedlings in [Dr. Atamian’s] plot, and returned again to harvest. It was really great seeing their faces every time they dug up a potato, pulled up a beet, and harvested zucchini or green beans and with a big smile saying: ‘look what I grew.’ ” – Mr. Damian Paez

OHS student with grown vegetables

Student proudly shows off his vegetables.

“Overall it was very rewarding experience to reach out and interact with the students. Doing this type of outreach for the first time, I was amazed by how engaged they were in the different activities and more importantly how appreciative they were of the experiences the program provided.” – Dr. Hagop Atamian

Dr. Atamian plans to continue the program next year with funding from his National Science Foundation grant. He hopes to expand the program to include other schools in the community.