HHS students building planter for disabled

When Hahnville High School teacher Henry “Hank” Cologne got the request to build a wheelchair accessible planter, he immediately accepted the project as a “real-life experience” for his Carpentry 1 students.

And they tackled it with enthusiasm.

Cologne also hoped they would recognize the opportunity to make a difference.

And they did.

“I had no idea it was going to be as big or as important as it was,” said student Drake Badeaux. “Mr. Cologne first gave us the project and we just built it the best way we could … like any other project. It wasn’t until the students came in and thanked us that I realized that this was way more important than just a regular planter. It was way more emotional than I thought it would be. To build something like this for students with disabilities was just unexplainable. The teachers and the students were so thankful. To see these students’ faces the first time we showed them it was, no doubt, the best feeling I’ve ever felt.”

 Fellow student Jason Zeringue also said he came to realize this was a special opportunity.

“This project brought a lot of emotion to us as we presented it to the students,” Zeringue said. “Making this project has shown me that even little things have big impacts.”

 Cologne also recognized their enthusiasm for their work and appreciation for the opportunity to help others.

 “I see the joy, and that right there is everything to me,” he said.

Donna Broussard, who teaches the school’s students with moderate to significant disabilities, approached Cologne about “making one giant planter.”

The Louisiana Department of Education changed the curriculum to include gardening for children with disabilities the year. The new requirement is based on 4-H’s junior Master Gardener program, but it posed a problem for Broussard’s students.

“We have a beautiful greenhouse, but we can’t get the wheelchairs in it,” she said. “Even with making a lip for the wheelchairs, they can’t move them in there and they don’t have the range in their arms to make the moves.”

The answer came with an Opportunity Grant, received through the state Education Department that allowed funding the materials for the planter.

After seeing raised gardening planters at Ashton Manor Assisted Living and Memory Care in Luling, Broussard had a plan and went to Cologne.

“I knew we wanted something similar, but I knew we needed to bevel it to get those wheelchairs in there,” she said.

The other sides of the planter would provide routine access.

Cologne tweaked the concept and set his students loose on it in early September. By November, five of Broussard’s students visited them to see their work and Cologne said he was deeply touched by their gratitude.

“The kids were telling me ‘Thank you,’” he said. When asked what they thought about the planter, one of them who used a small computer to communicate typed, “Cool.”

But Cologne said he was equally impressed by his students’ kind consideration of Broussard’s students.

“I was most proud of the way they carried themselves in front of these students,” Cologne said. “These guys stood there and talked to them as best they could and, to me, that made me feel better nearly as much as them building the planter.”

It was definitely a life experience with a heartfelt moment that far exceeded construction.

“That’s what I set out to do – to teach them a good bit about my skills, but some things about life, too” he said.

Broussard agreed.

“We don’t have a whole lot of opportunities to interact with regular education and it opened their eyes to what our kids can do,” she said. “This was a wonderful thing.”

Carpentry student Kalen Kinard said she was overwhelmed by the experience.

“When we first started the planter project, I didn’t know how important and special it was for students with disabilities,” Kindard said. “When the students came in and looked at the planter we built for them, they were overly thankful. One of the students typed “Thank you” on a tablet and the tablet said it back out loud. Our whole class started to get real emotional. I never realized how something so small could have a major impact on another kids life.”

Actually, the planter isn’t small in any way.

It is 16 feet long and about 3 feet wide with an arched front so a wheelchair can go under it.

The design also allows students to put their hands on top of it to reach the small garden.

“It’s a superb design,” Broussard said. “It came off so much better than I envisioned and that he was able to get his students to do that.”

Final add-ons, such an awning or screening and access for soaker hoses to the planter, are being done.

A ribbon cutting ceremony is planned between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Broussard said they plan to grow herbs or vegetables for teacher April Black’s cooking class.

“It really takes a lot of people to get this done,” she said. “But the workload fell on Cologne and his students, and I really appreciated what they could do.”


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