FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. (WDVM) — Students at West Springfield High School in Fairfax County will have a beautiful new courtyard to look out at when they return this fall. It’s all thanks to a group of special education students who helped weed, water and plant the new space.

But the garden isn’t the only thing that’s growing — their work skills are, too.

As the world closed during the pandemic, so did work placement opportunities for special education students. When the school’s employment and transition representative, Rebecca Cousins, began searching for other ways to provide real-life work experiences, she looked to their own backyard.

“I was trying to figure out what vocational skills they could learn that were around the school, preferably outside because we had all been cooped up,” said Cousins.

An overgrown courtyard that many classrooms faced needed some tidying up. Cousins enlisted the help of students in the school’s work awareness and transition programs.

“Special needs students in particular, they learn best with hands-on experiences,” said Cousins. “The skills of showing up on time to a job, learning different tools of the trade, learning how to keep working even when you want a break are skills they will take from this.”

Student Yisak Tariku says the program taught him some new skills and even a new love of gardening.

“I helped in weeding and whacking. You need to do well in gardening and do your hard work,” said Tariku.

Tools were purchased through a grant from the Foundation for Fairfax County Public Schools, and other supplies were donated from the community.

“We also bought this wheelbarrow with special handles that the students are able to more easily manipulate,” said Cousins.

Cousins is hopeful that local businesses will want to hire her hard-working students.

“As we open up, I’m hoping more businesses will welcome our students to learn these work skills out in the community, as we continue to learn them here at school.”