Although Brooke Sutyak first started out in January as a student teacher in the Freeland Community School District’s MS/HS Cognitive Impairment Program, it didn’t take her long to have a positive impact with her nine students.

 Of course, Brooke is quick to emphasize that all the credit goes to her students.

 One “hands-on” learning project recently undertaken by Brooke and her class involved literally bringing the school's greenhouse back to life.

 “It’s important for me to always explore ways my students can use their gifts to make a contribution," Brooke said. "And it’s also important that this takes place out in the community, participating alongside others."

When she initially reached out to Freeland’s secondary staff for ideas, high school science teacher Steven Schmidt readily admitted the school's greenhouse needed much tender loving care.

"Let’s just say everything in the greenhouse was totally dead when we arrived on day one," Brooke said. 

Brooke and her students spent the first couple of weeks cleaning, sweeping, and pulling dead plants. 

Students then planted “living things” such as flowers and lettuce – and with guidance and practice – also learned to carry out the greenhouse’s daily maintenance tasks like watering, composting, and sweeping without assistance from teachers.

"We were diligent in our work and we all felt pride in reviving 80% of the plants in there," Brooke said. "The whole goal was to get the greenhouse back up and running – and we did!”

Brooke expressed high praise for the 13 general education student-volunteers from the middle school and high school LINKS program, who provided friendship, positive modeling, and mentoring support.

"The LINKS peer volunteers became friends and advocates for my students," Brooke said. "And they were super, super helpful to each one.”

The greenhouse experience definitely had benefits for everyone involved.

“It was incredible for my students because it also sparked interest in learning more about plant life cycles, caring for the environment, and performing tasks with other team members.”

Welcoming and good relationships are fundamental to good learning, and Brooke is pleased to see her students enjoy regularly visiting with “Chunk” – Mr.  Schmidt’s science class gecko.

“Thanks to Mr. Schmidt and Chunk, our students are also learning about different living environments, what pets eat, and how to properly care for them,” Brooke said. “The students like Mr. Schmidt, of course, but they really love Chunk!”

Ms. Sutyak is just one of the countless special educators across Saginaw County who support our students with exceptionalities!