Tucked away in the back of Miner School in Arlington Heights is a greenhouse and sustainable vegetable garden.
Students at the therapeutic day school helped to cultivate its plants -- mostly different varieties of lettuce and spinach -- during the spring, with the hopes of growing fresh vegetables for the Wheeling Township Food Pantry.
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During a reception last week, students gave tours of the greenhouse and its thriving crops, while teachers and some of its sponsors, including Jim Platt of the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce, stood by proudly.
The garden project was one of many community partnerships showcased at the reception.
"It's a huge asset to our students to have this kind of collaboration," said Miner Principal Maureen Daly.
These community partners were recognized during a celebration that originally had been designed to honor the Northwest Suburban Special Education Organization's "Shining Stars," or students and faculty who had gone above and beyond.
This year, they included community partners of the education cooperative, which serves students from a number of local school districts.
"We're honoring the many people who help us in our daily mission of building a promising future for students," said Barbara Hammes, professional development and support services director for NSSEO.
Honorees included Frank Paolillo of Park Ridge and his company, the Magellan Corp. in Deerfield, who together donated 20 iPads to students at Timber Ridge School, another therapeutic day school in Arlington Heights.
"We wanted to help further students' educational and social development," Paolillo said.
Another community shining star honored that night was Barb Balla of Prospect Heights, who coordinates pet therapy visits at Timber Ridge School. She and other volunteers from Rainbow Therapy arrive with up to nine dogs every week to help with the school's mission of supporting students with emotional and psychological needs.
"We do it for the kids," Balla said. "They really look forward to our visits."
Bryan Bolger, outdoor education specialist at Sunrise Lake Education Center in Bartlett, talked about the different corporate partners who have helped enhance his program's ability to provide students with a variety of experiential learning opportunities.
Employees with Mitsubishi Electric Automation in Vernon Hills helped create flower boxes and canoe racks, while employees with Baxter International in Deerfield and Avalon Corp. in Schaumburg moved wood chips for a walking path.
Other shining stars who were recognized included: Clare Woods Academy in Bartlett, Richlee Bus Co. and Walgreens in Arlington Heights, the Buffalo Grove Park District, Gus' Diner in Des Plaines, the Palatine fire and police departments, the Rolling Meadows Fire Department, Pathways Senior Living in Vernon Hills, Christ Community Church in St. Charles and the Chicago Lighthouse.
"The collaboration they display," said Kathy Edmonds, board president, "shows they really believe in our educational mission."