After a one-year hiatus due to COVID-19, a horticulture course that allows Monroe County students with disabilities aged 18-26 to prepare for meaningful employment in the greenhouse/garden center industry has returned.

The annual course, known as the “Seeds of Success” program, is a partnership between the Monroe County Intermediate School District and Monroe County Community College’s Division of Corporate and Community Services that began in 2008, said Barry Kinsey, director of workforce development at MCCC. The individuals who started the program were William Hite, principal of the ISD; Sharon Diefenthaller, a teacher at the ISD and Kinsey.

It is a transition course that uses the Junior Master Gardner curriculum developed by the Michigan State Extension office, along with additional course materials developed by the college and the ISD, Kinsey said. The instructional portion of the program is provided on MCCC's campus, where the students are taught by a college instructor and a special education teacher in MCCC's biology laboratory and greenhouse. The noncredit coures includes 72.5 hours of instruction.

"Each student receives a college identification badge and has the same privileges as all other MCCC students," Kinsey said. "The remainder of their coursework is conducted in the community at Mathes Greenhouse and St. Isadore Farm, where students learn valuable academic, vocational and work experience skills."

There are 10 students enrolled in this year’s course, Kisey said, and for the first time since its inception, there is a new instructor from the ISD for the program -- Kriston Roman.  MCCC’s instructor for the program is Bianca Sander, who is is in her seventh year.

"Previous students have accepted employment positions in the community, while others have chosen to return for additional training," said Kinsey. "The students have some amazing talents. Previous success stories include one young man who discovered that he had a gift for creating floral arrangements and was offered a position at a florist.  Another young man speaks several languages and is helpful with customers. He is currently enrolled at MCCC as a credit student.  Another student transferred to a similar program that the ISD has with our local hospital called Project Search.

"This program has been a win-win for everyone involved -- the students have been able to experience a college campus as a student, something that was not possible prior to this program," Kinsey said, adding that the college campus has embraced these students, who are very eager to learn, and in the past showed their appreciation by creating and maintaining a perennial flower garden in front of the Life Sciences Building where they attend class. 

"The community is gaining well trained and dedicated individuals to assist them with their greenhouse and garden center experiences," he said.

This program is funded by the Intermediate School District.

MCCC/ISD Horticulture class

Back row left to right: ISD Principal William Hite, Aide Joanna Bacarella, MCCC Dean of Business Leon Letter, ISD Teacher Kriston Roman (teacher), Alex Benac, Preston LeFevre, Sam Blackburn, Conner Benac, MCCC Director of Workforce Development Barry Kinsey

Front row left to right: Charles Powell, Kristy Betway, D.J.Barber, Thomas Rissane, Alex Fisher, MCCC Instructor Bianca Sander

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