Picture of the SIlver Sands Growth House Ground Breaking Ceremony

Silver Sands Holds Ground Breaking for GROWTH House

Silver Sands School recently held a ground breaking ceremony for the GROWTH House which will feature an on campus horticulture program.  Made possible by a grant from IMPACT 100 Northwest Florida, the GROWTH House will allow students with significant cognitive impairments and physical disabilities to work alongside community partners to grow plants and vegetables. This program seeks to improve the student’s lives socially while teaching them valuable work related skills.

The Okaloosa Public Schools Foundation (OPSF), in partnership with the Choctaw Basin Alliance (CBA), UF/IFAS extension office, and the Okaloosa County School District’s special needs school, Silver Sands is excited by the GROWTH House IMPACT 100 NWF grant.

The GROWTH House will consist of a state-of-the-art greenhouse with hydroponic and aquaponic (utilizing live fish to naturally fertilize crops) systems for growing plants. It will be built on school grounds and promote the teaching of core subject areas, socialization, vocational rehabilitation, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, and relationships.

Those relationships will include the CBA, which serves Okaloosa and Walton Counties. Their mission includes sustaining healthy local waterways through monitoring, education, restoration and research. The GROWTH House would immediately allow the CBA to double its seagrass production through their “Grasses in Classes” program, increase volunteerism for both the school and the CBA, and lead to increased awareness of the capabilities of these students.

The UF/IFAS Okaloosa/Walton extension office will be available to support the horticulture program in the GROWTH House through its Master Gardener program. Master Gardeners are trained gardening professionals who provide at least 50 hours of community service annually. The GROWTH House will help increase the number of Master Gardeners in Okaloosa and Walton counties.

The unique design of the GROWTH House will reduce the labor intensiveness of horticulture. This reduces the difficulty of tasks, allowing all disabled students the opportunity to GROW extensively and successfully. Secondly, the ease of growing will help us to promote volunteerism at our school.

Volunteers in the school will serve a unique role transcending horticulture. Volunteers will model the people and environment of the traditional workplace, business, and community that our students must enter after graduating from Silver Sands School. Students will learn to be comfortable with a variety of people and situations. In addition, GROWTH House volunteers will grow because working with our students is truly a motivating and inspirational activity for the heart.

“We are so excited to create positive relationships through the volunteers that will come to The GROWTH House here at our school,” said Jon Williams, Principal of Silver Sands School.  “They will come because it will be a state of the art growing facility.  We won't just be laboring to grow and asking our volunteers to grind it out on our behalf.  They will get to come work in a really cool growing system they will love working in it and they will grow as people by helping teach students not only to grow what we plant but grow themselves as people and to maintain their dignity as human beings.  We stand to grow quite a bit over the next several years.”

Visit the OCSD Facebook page to see a complete gallery of this event.

Pictured above are Bob Bennett, OPSF President; School Board Members Dr. Lamar White and Dewey Destin; IMPACT 100 Board Members, Lisa Jo Spencer and Teresa Bolton; Jon Williams, Silver Sands Principal;  Brett Noack; and Henry Kelley, OPSF Executive Director.