A small greenhouse at Evergreen Country Day School has created large opportunities for students to learn.
The geodesic-dome greenhouse behind the school is being put together by students with the help of teachers and the founder of Evergreen nonprofit Global Children’s Gardens.
The greenhouse will provide lessons in botany, math, genetics, economics and research techniques, plus it has a hands-on component, as students in all grades have helped out by digging and moving dirt to prepare the foundation, building a retaining wall, using tools to build the dome, and moving gravel. Even the preschoolers will be involved by drawing pictures of the dome.
Though the greenhouse is a middle-school project, students in all grades come outside to work on it during their science classes.
The greenhouse is part of a project in the school’s new Science and Discovery Center. In addition to the greenhouse, this summer the school will remodel a computer lab into an interactive science laboratory and will be creating biomes of different habitats for children to watch, according to Dan Zuckerman, middle school coordinator.
The greenhouse dome is 22 feet in diameter and 10½ feet tall, making for 350 square feet of growing space. It is prefabricated by a company called Growing Spaces in Pagosa Springs. The domes are made of redwood and polycarbonate plastic panels. Inside are raised growing beds, fans, a water tank and piping that will circulate warm air under the beds to help keep the temperature even.
Allan Werthan, founder of Global Children’s Gardens, helped the school construct the dome. The greenhouses not only look unique, but they can withstand high winds, bright sun and other nasty weather conditions.
Werthan has explained that the nonprofit tries to connect kids to the source of their food, the natural world and their communities. The organization has set up 60 domes since its inception in 2001, including greenhouses at Clear Creek High School, Montessori School of Evergreen and Rocky Mountain Academy of Evergreen. Domes also are in other parts of the United States and overseas.
Once the greenhouse is completed, the students will begin growing vegetables, herbs and flowers. For the first growing season, Zuckerman said, they will keep it simple.
“We don’t want to go crazy and do 20 different things that need 20 different types of watering and light,” he said. “We’ll keep things simple while we really get to know our space.”
He said families also will have the opportunity to purchase and decorate tiles that will decorate the exterior of the dome.
On a warm day last week, fifth-graders braved the mud from melting snow to use electric screwdrivers and socket wrenches to put together the dome’s base. Others were carrying shovels filled with gravel to place around the base.
As fifth-graders Ashley Parilla and Sofie Cochran drilled screws into the greenhouse base, Ashley suggested it would be fun to have an apple tree in the greenhouse.
Zuckerman agreed but said it probably wasn’t feasible.
Sofie said the greenhouse had taken more planning than she expected, and she has learned about how different plants grow.
Many fifth-graders said they had not worked on a project of this magnitude before.
Zuckerman has big plans for the greenhouse both in terms of the food it produces and the learning that will take place.
He hopes some of the harvested vegetables will make their way into the school-lunch salad bar. He also thinks some of the produce could be given to school families, donated to area food banks or sold at area farmers markets.
“That would be an economics lesson for the kids,” Zuckerman said. “That’s an option.”
Math has come into play as the students prepared to level a portion of the yard to prepare it for construction. The students’ calculations estimated they would have to move 195 five-gallon buckets filled with dirt to accomplish the task. Instead, Zuckerman estimated it took 250 to 300 buckets.
“We got out pickaxes and shovels to move the dirt,” Zuckerman said. “We could have called an excavator, who could have done the work in a day, but this was a real learning experience for the students.”
He called the project exciting.
“It opens up all sorts of great opportunities for kids to learn about sustainability, growing their own food — from seed to stomach,” he said.