Patricia Wolfe knows the powerful therapeutic effect animals can have on children because she’s witnessed it firsthand at Lakemary Ranch.
The ranch was completed in 2017 at Lakemary Center’s Paola campus for children with developmental disabilities. It includes a barn, chicken coop, rabbit hutches, goat paddock, sensory and play garden, koi pond, pig pen, greenhouse, raised garden beds and an Outdoor Wildlife Learning Site (OWLS).
The barn is the focal point of the ranch, and it features dedicated therapy space, bathroom facilities, animal stalls and a classroom area with a TV for presentations.
The barn was dedicated to Andre Dight in 2018 after he lost his life in a vehicle accident. Dight was instrumental in the creation of the ranch, and he served as its initial manager.
During the past two years, staff at Lakemary have integrated the ranch into the school’s curriculum, and it is now considered a special class like art, music, computers and physical education.
The students have embraced key roles in caring for the animals and tending to the gardens, and the ranch is also used both as an incentive for students and as a place for those experiencing behavioral difficulties.
“It has an instant calming effect,” Wolfe said.
She specifically remembers a time when a therapist visited the ranch with a young girl so they could talk and walk a goat together.
“That girl told her more things while walking the goat than she ever had before,” Wolfe said.
Lakemary School Principal Marcy Seaman said Wolfe has been the perfect person to utilize the ranch, particularly because she has degrees in both animal science and special education.
Wolfe said the classes at Lakemary Ranch have many components. Students learn about agricultural education and how food grows in gardens, but they also learn social skills by working together to complete chores and by watching the animals interact with each other.
Using raised beds and a greenhouse, Lakemary students have harvested a variety of produce, including peppers, tomatoes, green beans, corn, cucumbers and more.
During a recent lesson, Wolfe talked to the students about cicadas and the sound they make.
Word is starting to get out about the unique hands-on lessons Wolfe is teaching at Lakemary Ranch.
Earlier this summer, she was named the 2020 Janet Sims Memorial Teacher of the Year by Kansas Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom (KFAC).
The award recognizes teachers who instill a passion for learning about agriculture within their students. KFAC honors one teacher annually who has successfully integrated agricultural education into his or her pre-existing curriculum, according to a news release.
Wolfe will be recognized during the 2019 KFAC annual meeting to be held in November in Manhattan, and she will receive an all-expense-paid trip to the 2020 National Agriculture in the Classroom conference to be held in Salt Lake City. Wolfe will also be considered for the 2020 National Excellence in Teaching About Agriculture Award, presented by National Agriculture in the Classroom, according to the release.