Polk County High School and CooperRiis plant sale helps students learn job skills

Published 3:16 pm Wednesday, February 21, 2024

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COLUMBUS—Polk County High School students are gaining valuable job skills while helping the school’s special education program through a collaboration with CooperRiis Healing Community, a nonprofit residential organization for adults with mental health challenges. 

For the past year and a half, special education teachers Jeff Micchelli and Maria Freeman have been working with Markus Wulliman, the Community Garden Crew Leader at CooperRiis, to supply plants their students can sell as part of their occupational course of study. 

This program is not to be confused with the Future Farmers of America plant sale, which also takes place at the high school. It is another beautiful example of the school’s innovative approach to education, all while bringing more greenery to the area. 

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The program starts with Wulliman and his crew at CooperRiis donating excess plants from their greenhouse, which the students then advertise, pack and deliver to other schools in the district. The plant sales raise funds for classroom needs and other necessities. 

Since its launch in 2003, CooperRiis has supported over 1,900 individuals on their path to sustaining their mental health and independence, making its collaboration with PCHS an excellent extension of its mission.

“Our students do the order forms, sort through the plant guides, pack the plants, and then deliver the plants all over the county with the help of their teachers and teacher’s aids,” says Micchelli. “It’s a wonderful academic exercise that provides them with job skills they can use later in life after graduation.” 

The collaboration is part of the Occupational Course of Study, a statewide program that helps special education students learn skills to enter the workforce and care for themselves. The OCS provides eligible students with the skills needed to develop a foundation for work and focuses on post-school employment and independent living. 

Apart from this collaboration, OCS students participate in numerous other fundraisers, including selling plants, herbs, homemade birdhouses and jewelry at Stearns. 

“All this goes to fund our big trip at the end of the year, and every dollar raised goes to making our program better and helping our students,” adds Micchelli. 

To order plants and show your support for the program you can contact Jeff Micchelli at jmicchelli@polkschools.org