Jordan Payne, director of Sprouting Minds (left), joins Summit Academy – Middletown Intervention Specialist Sarah Doller (center) and her daughter, Grace (right), at one of the school’s eight gardens where therapeutic horticulture has taken root.

When students at Summit Academy School for Alternative Learners – Middletown arrived back to classes last week and inspected their school gardens, little did they expect to find a giant pumpkin named Judy. Weighing in at nearly 120 pounds and counting, Judy, along with watermelons, flowers and other assorted crops crown the school’s eight gardens. Intervention Specialist Sarah Doller and her daughter, Grace, a student at Summit Academy Middletown Secondary, tended to the garden beds all summer under the guidance of Jordan Payne. Payne, a behavioral health specialist, directs Sprouting Minds, a trauma-informed, therapeutic gardening organization that works with the school’s students throughout the school year.

Through therapeutic gardening, the school’s entire K-6 student body is learning to work as a team, setting goals and taking on responsibilities, according to Doller.

“It has also helped to build self-esteem as they see the actual fruits of their labor,” Doller says. “The best part is watching relationships develop between our students as they work together in the garden and seeing the calming effect it has on them. It’s truly magical.”

Sprouting Minds, an Ohio-based nonprofit organization founded by Payne, promotes mental health and resilience through therapeutic horticulture. Sprouting Minds builds resilience factors into its therapeutic work. Those factors include healthy relationships; agency, or giving power back to participants; self-esteem; external supports for coping with stress and adversity; and affiliation, or a common objective to which to work toward.

“Jordan, our students, Sarah, and Grace have really taken this on,” says Principal Kristen Parkes, referring to the school’s blossoming therapeutic gardening program. “I’m really lucky to have the best team, best kids, and best community partners. We love this program.”

This is the second year Summit Academy Community School for Alternative Learners – Middletown, has engaged in the program. Parkes says she looks forward to introducing Sprouting Minds to her secondary school students this year as well.