A Sensory Garden Blooms At Manchester High School

Bailey Farrell and those who attended her presentation of her sensory garden in the Manchester Township High School interior courtyard. (Photo by Jennifer Peacock)

MANCHESTER – One Manchester graduate has earned a prestigious Girl Scouts award for creating a space that will benefit high school students for years to come.

Bailey Farrell, 17, presented her sensory garden, which sits in the school’s interior courtyard, to family, friends and school officials at the end of August. Her volunteer work to create the garden earned her the Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest and most difficult award to earn in the scouts.

The award is open only to high school girls. They are tasked with identifying an issue, researching it, and then creating and executing a plan. The projects usually take close to 100 hours to complete, and after, the girls must make a presentation on what their project is.

The Girls Scouts of America says the award distinguishes girls from other candidates in the college application process as well as job prospects.

Bailey Farrell earned her Girl Scouts Gold Award by creating a sensory garden in the Manchester Township High School interior courtyard. (Photo by Jennifer Peacock)

Bailey was part of Troop Jersey Shore 50601, which recently disbanded due to its members all aging out. She’s been in Girl Scouts since the second grade, and with Troop 50601 since fifth grade.

She’s now on her way to Stockton University to study nursing.

Bailey worked closely with vice principal Stacie Ferrara (who is now principal at Brick Memorial High School) from seed to garden.

Bailey had the help of the district, as well as supplies donated by Lowe’s Home Improvement, to create her sensory garden. The plants and flowers chosen are spring bloomers, so the garden’s full beauty and function wasn’t fully seen during her August presentation.

Since Bailey is off to college, her garden will be tended by the high school’s Green Team and the grounds crew.

She described the sensory garden as a self-contained area that allows visitors to enjoy a wide-variety of sensory experiences. Students can be immersed in sounds, textures and colors. Everything in the garden was selected with a sensory element in mind: sound, taste, touch, smell, sight.

Blueberry bushes are planted in the taste box. Orange, pink and red roses occupy the scent box, but also offer a colorful visual element. The touch box has three tall clumps of beach grass, which when touched also makes a very distinct rustling sound. The autumn favorite, mums of different colors, sit in the sight box. And in the middle of the garden, Bailey placed an owl windchime for sound.

An owl windchime creates the sounds for the sensory garden. (Photo by Jennifer Peacock)

“These types of gardens are very popular and beneficial to those with sensory processing issues, including but not limited to autism and other disabilities,” Bailey said. “Because these gardens are gaining popularity as a physical resource for special education, I really wanted to bring that here, and then when [special education teacher Amanda McCollum]…approached me with the idea, I took it and ran with it. I was so excited…to bring this experience to Manchester.”

A person has a sensory processing disorder “when sensory signals are either not detected or don’t get organized into appropriate responses,” according to the STAR Institute For Sensory Processing Disorder. “A person with SPD finds it difficult to process and act upon information received through the senses, which creates challenges in performing countless everyday tasks. Motor clumsiness, behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, school failure, and many other problems may impact those who do not have effective treatment.”

Bailey’s sensory garden can be used as a calming place for those who are overstimulated, as well as an exploratory place for those whose are under-stimulated.

“Bailey started the school year wanting to achieve her gold award, which is one of the highest awards – it’s equivalent to the Eagle Scout award – which we often don’t celebrate or acknowledge locally,” Ferrara said. “Even though there might be 10,000 Girl Scouts on the Jersey shore, there’s usually maybe under 30 that achieve this award in the Jersey Shore. So, we’re always proud of our students going above and beyond, but not only did Bailey pick a project, she did something that really created and started the garden here.”

Roses will bloom in the spring as part of the “smell” portion of the sensory garden. (Photo by Jennifer Peacock)

Bailey called being part of her Girl Scout troop “the greatest experience of her life.” She’s had the chance to travel and perform other community service projects.

Bailey was joined by her mother and father, Janice and Patrick Farrell.

“We’re proud of her. She took on the challenge, the concept through developmental, and just got it done, completely,” Patrick said.

Janice believes her daughter will stay active in the Girl Scouts. Bailey plans on becoming a lifetime member, and perhaps starting her own troop after college.

“I would love to do that,” Bailey said.