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Friendships, life skills bloom in blended Buffalo High classes

By Ali Schmitz, Staff Writer
SAM OWENS | Putnam Review
(Front, from left) Kevin Casto, Owen Blake and Alex Whittington organize trays of planted flowers as Mathew Williams (back left) and Roy Hadley (back right) look at the catfish swimming in a hydroponic tank inside the greenhouse at Buffalo High School.
SAM OWENS | Putnam Review Plants sit in orderly rows inside the greenhouse at Buffalo High School in Buffalo.
SAM OWENS | Putnam Review Kevin Casto (left) and Owen Blake (right) move trays of planted flowers around in the greenhouse at Buffalo High School in Buffalo on March 29. The school has a program for Laura Martin’s special-needs students that teaches them how to grow plants while working alongside other high school students in Danielle Grant’s agriculture science classes.
SAM OWENS | Gazette-Mail Bright flowers and other plants sit in orderly rows inside the greenhouse at Buffalo High School.
SAM OWENS | Gazette-Mail Roy Hadley picks up a catfish that he netted out of a hydroponic tank that is producing swiss chard in the greenhouse at Buffalo High School in Buffalo, W.Va., on Wednesday, March 29, 2017. Hadley and other students have helped feed the fish and tend to the plants in the greenhouse through a program set up to allow them to participate in agriculture science classes.

A classroom partnership at Buffalo High School is creating friendships, while teaching students life skills.

Danielle Grant, the agriscience teacher at the school, and Laura Martin, who teaches students with intellectual disabilities and autism, have brought their classes together since Buffalo High’s new campus opened in 2012.

Both were first year teachers -- Grant a recent college graduate and Martin pursuing a career in education after

being a registered nurse. They became friends quickly, and Grant encouraged Martin to bring her students out to plant potatoes in the school’s garden.

Now Martin’s students work in the school greenhouse alongside Grant’s students, as well as take Grant’s plant science class. In the class, Martin’s students and Grant’s students are partnered together.

Grant’s high school agriscience teacher had a similar program, and she witnessed how it worked firsthand. She said many other teachers throughout the country have launched similar partnerships, because they’ve witnessed how it helps students schoolwide.

“Even though sometimes content may be hard to grasp, these are skills,” Grant said “Skills can take you through life.”

Grant said it helps her students learn the material by teaching it to Martin’s students.

“When they’re peer driven rather than teacher driven, they’re more likely to participate,” Grant said.

Martin said for her students it’s a chance to interact with their peers, something they have only recently been able to do. For Martin’s students it’s the only time they are put into regular classes -- they spend three-quarters of their day in a self-contained class. She said the partnership allows them to learn social cues and meet new people.

“Some of the kids in the ag department, that’s their buddy and they stay friends forever,” Martin said.

Both teachers said many of their students stay in the Buffalo area after graduation. While Martin’s students didn’t feel as close to their community before, now they feel like they belong. She hopes the friendships made through the classes last for a lifetime.

“They are now part of the school and their community through this process,” Martin said.

Martin said the lessons they’re learning in class help them after graduation. One she thinks is most important is that they are able to learn how to grow fresh food. Martin said most of the students will never be able to get their driver’s license. In Buffalo, there’s one grocery store, miles away from many students’ homes.

Now students are supplementing their incomes by growing fresh food and plants.

“If they can raise their own fruits and their vegetables and their own gardens, it really supplements their income; it makes it not such a chore to get food,” Martin said.

Many students already live on farms, so it also allows them to get more involved with their families’ work. They’ll teach parents lessons they learn in classes.

“They see the reward in the end. They can see this is something I can eat, that I can do on my own, without equipment or anything way of getting hurt,” Martin said.

The program also allows students to be in charge of the school’s popcorn sales. That teaches them how to save and spend money that’s not the disability checks that they receive, and how to use a cash register. Martin said it also has helped their social skills.

Ashlee Priddy, one of Martin’s students, said the class is one of her favorite parts of the day, because she is able to spend time with her friends, and leave the classroom.

“We like coming out here and helping other students plant crops. And getting to go outside,” Priddy said.


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