The students at Schramm Educational Center in Pekin have more serious needs than any other school children in Tazewell County, because their disabilities limit the ways they can learn.

Schramm Principal and Program Coordinator Tim Kennedy said some have aversions to the simplest things that other children encounter every day, such as colors or certain smells. Kennedy said the school is ready to help the kids adjust to those things at a young age through gardening.

“Our goal is to grow things that we can then have the kids sell or turn into some kind of job that the kids can do,” said Kennedy. “I think personally canning salsa or selling flowers for different events or something like that.

“We do have two job coaches that are really involved with this, and then our therapists, physical and (occupational) and speech (therapists are involved as well). We’re going to incorporate all of the skills they’re learning at school, language development and sensory needs. Students with autism lots of times have aversions to either smells or noise or things like that. We’re trying to expose them to different types of plants, different colors or (a) different touch sensation.”

Kennedy said the school formed a garden committee several years ago, cleaned up the property and started some planters with flowers and vegetables. The beds are raised so the students can work in them from their wheelchairs. 

The district has plant beds on the far edge of the property, but it is difficult to get water there, said Kennedy. The deer also eat all of the plants and produce. The greenhouse will be close to the school.

Schramm, the home of the Tazewell/Mason Counties Special Education Association, will have 71 students this year from school districts in those two counties. The school started in the late 1960s. It moved to its current location nestled, in a wooded area off of Willow Street, in the 1980s. The students at the school range in age from 3 to 21.

“Our students are the lowest functioning students in the county and 95 percent of them are non-verbal,” said Kennedy. “Independence is something we really work toward.

“We want the kids to get as independent as possible. We realize they’re not going to be completely independent, so we work on communication, because that’s the basis for all of this, and then independence. With independence comes any kind of skill that would help them either do a job at TCRC — I don’t know if many of our kids will get a job out in the community, but if there’s a possibility we would really like to see that. So all of our curriculum and academic type classes are geared toward those two things: independence and communication.”

TCRC in Tremont built a greenhouse and EPIC (Empowering People, Inspiring Capabilities) in Peoria grows food and has a program where it cooks the food and makes boxed lunches, said Kennedy. Schramm employees thought a greenhouse would be a great idea for students at the school. Word got out and the East Peoria Kiwanis called one day and said they wanted to help get this greenhouse.

The committee will meet in August to nail down plans for the structure. The committee at first thought a prefab, plastic type structure would work, but the East Peoria Kiwanis is going to build a permanent structure for the school, Kennedy said.

The East Peoria Kiwanis held a golf outing Wednesday and collected approximately $3,000 for the project. Kiwanis Secretary Barb King said Kiwanis President Dave Horton heard about the schools, objected and spoke with Kennedy. He made the project his project for his presidency. He was not readily available for comment.

Local service organizations are very supportive of Schramm — the East Peoria Kiwanis, the Rotary, AMBUCS and the Knights of Columbus — and PNC Bank has helped with donations for various projects.

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