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 Davila Day Students Blossom with Garden Lessons

Ms. Smarty Plants, student, and teacher planting flowers​This month, it’s garlic bulbs and gardening. Next month, it’s butterflies and milkweed. 

For seven years, Keri Gravette has taught students at Davila Day School about the environment through hands-on activities with monthly field trips to visit Ms. Smarty-Plants at the Water Conservation Garden at Cuyamaca College. 

“It’s hands-on science,” Gravette said. “There are outdoor activities. They are growing vegetables and gardening. They are learning about habitat and ecosystems, the water cycle, and how to conserve. And it’s all through interactive, hands-on activities that the kids are truly enjoying.”

Davila Day School serves students in preschool through 6th grade who are Deaf or hard of hearing and live in the eastern or southern portions of the county. The San Diego County Office of Education operates the regional program in affiliation with the South County Special Education Local Plan Area.

Pam Meisner, also known as Ms. Smarty-Plants, founded the program in 2008 while she was the education specialist at the Water Conservation Garden. For more than 30 years, she’s been advocating for fun and interactive learning in nature as well as bringing conservation into the classroom.

Visiting Ms. Smarty-Plants each month is something the kids get excited about. 
“They start asking questions well in advance,” Gravette said. “‘What are we going to see? What are we going to do? What are we going to find? What’s the plan?’ I tell them just wait until we get there!”

Another reason students like Ms. Smarty-Plants so much is because she knows American Sign Language and can sign with them. 

“Overall, Deaf and hard of hearing students are very visual — that is their communication,” Gravette said. “And I think that anything that taps into that is a benefit. The hands-on activities are worthwhile because they incorporate the whole visual aspect, and students learn in their own way with their own hands-on activities. Students are more centered, they’re more focused, and it’s just been a great benefit.” 

Gravette and Ms. Smarty-Plants collaborate in advance to align monthly lessons — which follow state science standards — with what the kids are learning in the classroom. Visits to the garden bring those lessons to life and to the outdoors where students can touch, smell, see, and for some with assistive devices, hear. 

What started as a simple search for science-related field trip opportunities for her students has blossomed into a beautiful partnership with Ms. Smarty-Plants.

Gravette said that shortly after their first few visits, Ms. Smarty-Plants offered to write a grant for the school that would provide extended supplies and materials kids could use for hands-on work. To this day, that grant covers the full cost of the field trips for Davila students. 

“I am thankful that my students get to benefit from going every single month,” Gravette said. “It doesn’t matter what their abilities are. The garden has built a great program for all students.”