Position: Exceptional Student Education, Horticulture and Career Skills Teacher
School: Whispering Pines Center
School District: Broward County Public Schools
City, State: Miramar, Florida
About the Nominee: Cynthia Nowicki was nominated by her colleague, Andrea Swift. "Give a man a fish, and you have fed him once. Teach him how to fish and you have fed him for a lifetime." - Chinese Axiom
Ms. Nowicki is a LifeChanger for students at her school. Her colleagues are all extremely proud of the horticulture program she has established, which has far-reaching benefits for the student population. Ms. Nowicki has grown this program from overgrown, weed filled spaces to beautiful gardens and nurseries throughout the campus. The program is more than just aesthetically pleasing, however. Whispering Pines School (WPS) is an Exceptional Student Education Center tasked with providing academic, therapeutic and behavioral supports to meet the dynamic needs of students from kindergarten to age 22. Students are primarily diagnosed with disabilities related to mental health, and Ms. Nowicki has keen insight to the unique needs of this population. In the garden, students grow plants, fruits, vegetables, etc, but they also learn potential career/life skills and make tremendous therapeutic gains.
In 2016, Ms. Nowicki was honored as the Florida Ag in the Classroom Teacher of the Year and P3 Eco Challenge Teacher of the Year for her innovative efforts to use the horticulture program as a platform to teach vocational and life skills. Each year, under the direction of Ms. Nowicki, the garden program expands to provide students with more hands-on learning experiences and make a bigger impact on the community at large. Students grow fruits, vegetables and herbs, and they participate in food tasting and culinary extensions. In addition, the program has expanded to include vertical gardens and planning of green spaces. Furthermore, Ms. Nowicki collaborates with the various disciplines in the school STEM program.
Beyond the WPS Campus, Ms. Nowicki seeks to improve gardens in the community and makes donations of plants, seedlings, etc. throughout the year. Students have the opportunity to take plants home in order to establish sustainable food resources for themselves and their families. This opportunity is especially notable because over 70% of the student population is considered low income. Ms. Nowicki not only teaches the students how to care for the plants, but how to use them as food sources. She teaches various landscaping skills that have led students to sustained industry employment. Her students have the confidence to take the skills from the school to the community as a direct result of program participation.
Ms. Nowicki and her horticulture program are an integral part of WPS. They have made a direct impact on the lives of special education students!