Educators might know they’ve hit the
mark when their students can’t wait
to come home from Walt Disney
World in order to soak up their
The students’ enthusiasm could come from
teacher Ben Thacker’s chill approach to dealing
with human sprouts or it could be that the Plant
School doesn’t feel like school at all.
The year-round educational program at the
Banana River Yard in Satellite Beach is an
hourlong session on Monday evenings. The
atmosphere is more like a neighborhood gettogether
than a class for the grammar school set.
But make no mistake, lessons are being slipped in
with the fun.
On a recent Monday, 24 children ranging in age
from 6 months to 12 years roamed the tiny jungle
along South Patrick Drive.
Among them were the Chickowski sisters:
Catherine, 7, and Sylvia, 4. Parents Paul and
Ericka Chickowski have been bringing them
to the yard for a year, after learning of the
innovative program through a friend.
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Bella Grace Payne and the nursery’s herbalist MariaElena Marks-Monge pick cotton candy
berries for the students in the class to taste.
Students fill their seedling pots with rich soil composted at the yard.
The Satellite Beach couple says the girls are
passionate about the school, to put it mildly.
“We got back from the Magic Kingdom this
morning,” Paul Chickowski said. “We were in
Orlando for a couple of days and all Catherine
could talk about on the way home was Plant
School. She was very enthusiastic about
When asked why the family chooses to spend
Monday evenings there, the answer mirrors
the yard’s own raisons d'être: “It’s a fun
sense of community as well as something
educational for the kids.”
They sneak the education in “between the
snacks and the adventure walk,” he noted.
Three objectives guide the Banana River Yard
operation, but at its essence it is a nursery
selling exclusively tropical and subtropical
plants that produce edible and medicinal
fruits, seeds, stalks and leaves.
Thacker and business partner Ryan Gibbons
opened the nursery a year ago on land that
was once deemed too small for anything.
Gibbons’ family owns the half-acre tract and
the shopping center next to it, Lori Laine
Plaza. The two came up with the same idea