July 6, 2021-- In 2018, Intermediate South was selected for the Whole School, Whole Child, Whole Community (WSCC) health grant from the NJ Department of Health and regional funder EmPOWeR Somerset. The four-year project has enabled the school to create motivational posters and banners, transform its fitness room, host a U.S. Olympian and Nurturing Heart Approach expert Frank Picone for keynote engagements, encourage water consumption for students and teachers, and provide Mental Health First Aid Training. Like many if not all school-based programs, the WSCC at Intermediate South struggled to regain its footing during the pandemic, but it now embarks on its biggest project yet.
Led by WSCC lead and IS counselor Betty Velez-Gimbel, Nuture by Nature is officially underway. The project seeks to transform the Intermediate South courtyard into a green and blue space where students and staff will be able to immerse themselves in nature to assist with mental health management.
"This courtyard garden will be utilized to provide students with a safe and tranquil setting to manage stress and anxiety under the supervision of their guidance counselor, case worker, or teacher," said Velez-Gimbel. "It is my hope that all will benefit from its beauty."
Research shows that exposure to nature improves mental health, and the Nurture by Nature project aligns perfectly with the district's broader efforts to bring more attention to-- and provide more tangible resources for-- mental health.
While Velez-Gimbel and her staff will continue to provide the nurture, locally-sourced Twin Pond Farm will be providing the nature, and is in the process of delivering carefully-selected trees, shrubs, and flowers to the school. EmPOWeR Somerset was so impressed with the concept and the potential impact it will have on students that it agreed to send additional funding for the initial phase.
As it awaits its greenery, the school has wasted no time getting started, and has received helped from several organizations. Local Boy Scouts Troop 38 installed raised beds which were donated by the school's Environmental Club with support from club advisor Mrs. Worth. Scout leaders Bob Consoli and Kenny Seals, along with Scoutmaster Anthony Botts, helped orchestrate and implement the raised beds installation, which successfully took place last week.
Once the 2021-2022 school year gets underway, folks should expect the courtyard at Intermediate South to have a whole new look. Velez-Gimbel and her team are very hopeful that, in addition to its aesthetic features, it will serve as a safe haven for students to refresh, reinvigorate, and remove themselves from the hallway hustle and bustle and stress of the school year.