MARYSVILLE — For close to 100 special needs students at Marshall Elementary, the Rotary Club of Marysville’s pumpkin patch at The Plant Farm in Smokey Point was just a bit too far afield, so the Marysville Rotary teamed up with staff and parents from Marshall Elementary and the Marysville Cooperative Education Program to bring the pumpkin patch to those kids.
For more than four hours on Thursday, Oct. 25, special education students ranging from preschool to fifth-grade classes ventured out into the soccer fields of Marshall Elementary to pick out their own small pumpkins, out of a field of about 100 pumpkins light enough to lift but heavy enough to require both hands.
Kelli Marble is both a developmental preschool teacher at Marshall Elementary and the parent of a child with special needs, so she understands the challenges of raising kids who might react poorly to Halloween novelties such as jack-o’-lanterns and spooky skeleton decorations.
“What we did before we even went out to our own pumpkin patch was to show the children that our bones are just what’s inside of us, and to have them cut into pumpkins to empty out the seeds,” Marble said of her special education students. “We wanted to demystify the unusual aspects of it, but we were also facing the reality of trying to transport our kids to the Rotary pumpkin patch, as well as how wheelchairs would maneuver once they got there.”
While the Marysville Rotary donated the pumpkins, the staff and families of Marshall Elementary and the Marysville Cooperative Education Program donated candy and prizes for the mini-carnival in the school’s smaller gym.
“The games let them interact with adults and each other, exercising their speech and motor components,” Marble said, as the special education students went “fishing” for treats, tossed beanbags into monster-shaped targets, and dived for matching balls in a kiddie wading pool. “When they go outside, the volunteers talk them through choosing which pumpkins they want, so there’s a lot of communication going on.”
Marble personally witnessed several children becoming much more comfortable with traditional Halloween trimmings that had previously caused them to yell, cry or act out in other ways. Mary Ramos and John Maier, each parents of their own special education students, echoed Marble’s positive sentiments about the pumpkin patch as they escorted their own children and other kids out to the soccer fields.
“This is a wonderful thing for the school to do,” said Ramos, as her daughter Elizabeth placed the pumpkin she wanted in her mother’s bag. “It’s an opportunity for them to be part of the pumpkin patch like the other kids.”
“The fishing games and playing with her friends were probably her favorite parts of today,” Maier said of his own daughter, Aurora.
“Halloween week is our conferences week, so it’s great that everyone was able to help us put this together,” Marshall Elementary Principal Kelly Sheward said of the event, which was thought up and organized within the two weeks prior to the day of the activities. “Thanks to their generosity we can provide a safe, protective environment for our special needs kids while letting them have their own pumpkin patch.”
“I want to thank the community for getting behind us on such short notice,” Marble said. “Now, when these kids go home, they can tell their brothers and sisters that they went to the pumpkin patch too.”
Marble is already planning next year’s on-site pumpkin patch for the school’s special education students, for which she hopes to recruit middle and high school students to serve as volunteer guides for the kids.