Sidney Lanier Garden aims to beautify east Gainesville


What may seem to be a simple garden happens to be a safe haven for many students at the Sidney Lanier school for special needs.

It all started with Wanda Moffet’s class for those with emotional disabilities.

“Getting out with nature and doing something with their hands, I thought was something that would help them…and it has and it has gone so far,” Moffet said.

When students step into the garden it’s therapeutic to each student in a unique way. They can be distracted from harmful feelings. They can challenge their senses of taste, touch and smell. They can have some physical activity and use their hands.

The students built these opportunities for themselves from the ground up.

“When I started I was thinking about my classroom and my students,” Moffet said “The other students were like, ‘can I help?’ So the older kids were working with the younger kids and they started learning how to use tools. They started measuring, using tools. Things that I didn’t plan on them learning, things that I didn’t put in my lesson plans.”

Soon, they were building beds and irrigation systems. They were planting seasonal produce and flowers…all something her class could share with the school.

“It’s kids asking questions, and I don’t have to,” Moffet said. “These are kids teaching kids, and kids listen to kids more often than they listen to adults sometimes. And then when you have kids that have problems, success builds success. Then they realize they have a place in the world.”

But Moffet did not stop there. She found Iryna Kanishcheva who organized muralists to paint the surrounding walls.

“It’s a really great opportunity to do something meaningful because in most cases murals are done to beautify the area but in this case we are doing this for kids,” Kanishcheva said.

Moffet said an overarching lesson she wants to teach these kids is their responsibility in society; to take care of your own and the community you live in.

“For them to have that takeaway for the rest of their lives is something that I know as a teacher I did something right,” Moffet said.

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