On October 27
, the students of Omni Middle School in Boca Raton welcomed the “Dream Garden” to their campus, provided by Keep Palm Beach County Beautiful (KPBCB), an organization who partners with both public and private entities to adopt environmentally conscious programs and practices. Jeannine Rizzo, who works with the Wellness Initiative, part of the Department of Food Services for the School District of Palm Beach County, was a central figure in bringing this donation to Omni through the “Garden of Dreams” contest.
“This is all about a cultural shift here at Omni, trying to create a positive and supportive climate,” Rizzo said.
The donation signals something bigger for Gerald Riopelle, now in his sixth year as principal of Omni. The garden is to represent a peaceful environment, but be a physical space where students can escape from the pressures and demands that too often exhaust children at this age.
“It is nice to be able to recognize students and have an opportunity to develop the whole child,” Riopelle said. “This garden is a place to sit down, reflect, and ponder how to achieve.”
Focus on the “whole child” is a reference to Social Emotional Learning (SEL), or a confluence of interpersonal and intrapersonal skillsets that allow students to manage emotions, exhibit empathy, identify goals and establish and maintain positive relationships. The garden is a physical manifestation of creating an effective Positive and Supportive School Climate, one theme of the School District’s outlined Strategic Plan.
Rizzo, who comes from an empowerment background working for years as a life coach, shared how each month different mindsets will be celebrated. The month of November will be a theme of Gratitude, as an easy adoption of the Thanksgiving holiday. As the cooler days of December grace our calendars, Random Acts of Kindness will come into focus.
The garden was designed and installed in collaboration by Jeff Nurge of Florida Native Gardening and Janine Griffiths of Green Thumb, Inc. Nurge highlighted the importance that more than 90% of the plants and shrubs were an indigenous species of Florida, and that this same design was to be replicated on many campuses in the future.
Sam Chaskin, eighth grade student president, was invited to speak on behalf of his classmates.
“This will be a quiet place where you can sit down, take a deep breath, and that can go a long way,” Chaskin said.
Sitting on the bench of the “Dream Garden,” it would be hard to believe that any student would want to go far beyond the peaceful setting they now have to call their own.