Just outside the classroom doorstep, an outdoor education opportunity for local agriculture is growing for Vanderhoof’s elementary school students.
Staff and teacher volunteers gathered on Nov. 7 at Evelyn Dickson Elementary’s (EDS) new greenhouse, which has been closed for the winter, to build planter boxes for each class in preparation for spring.
Made from a lift of planks donated by Nechako Lumber Co. Ltd., the individual planters are a continuation of the school’s greenhouse project — its grand opening was in June this year, said principal Mark Gauthier.
In fact, with the assistance of the school district’s maintenance staff who designed and helped to set up the pieces, the majority of the greenhouse’s construction was done by the school’s Grade 2 and 3 students, as well as several older students — involving 90 kids in total, Gauthier added.
The project started when teachers Bonnie Toll and Becki Larsen approached him with their idea.
“We were just talking about it one day,” Toll said. “She said, ‘Hey, let’s do it,’ and away we went!”
Teaching a Grade 2/3 split class, Toll said she has always wanted a greenhouse with the kids as a local experience, growing their own food.
“If they start early, they can do it when they get older,” she said.
It was an all-round learning experience, as the maintenance staff explained to the students the different parts of the building — ceiling, roof, walls, and joints, Toll said.
“[The students] got hammers and they hammered away, they watched the walls going up, they watched the roof and ceiling get put on…they actually get to shovel the dirt into the greenhouse,” she said. “So the kids did everything, with assistance from the [school] district.”
The construction of the greenhouse allowed the students to learn about basic engineering concepts, as they learn how to build a sturdy structure, Toll said.
“So what do you need,” she said. “You need walls, you need a foundation.”
Then, upon completion, the greenhouse allows an on-going program on plants, as they plant, care for, and harvest the produce, she added.
“We discussed how seeds in them, how they are different shapes and sizes, how plants grow,” she said.
Though the classes had started late this year — planting only tomatoes, pumpkins, and cucumbers — Toll plans to use the seeds of this year’s harvest for next year, along with more variety of produce.
“So they can see the whole process, from the seed to the plant, and back to the seed again,” Toll said. “Next year we should have more fruits and vegetables, so in the fall we can make things like salads in the classroom.”
Toll said she hopes the experience will be something the students will always remember.
“What child in Grade 2 and 3 can say they built a greenhouse?”
She also envisioned a phase three and four for the project: planting trees and making products such as jams and jellies.
“That’s how it started,” Toll said. “Just a little dream that it can be really great to build a greenhouse with kids and away we went.”
She added that in addition to its maintenance staff, the school district has also helped by outfitting the facility with water barrels, as well as commemorative t-shirts for the participating kids.
Named Project Greenhouse, the EDS’s facility is linked to the school district’s other career-related projects that provide students with hands-on experience, said Darren Carpenter, the school district’s career and trades coordinator.
It’s similar to W.L.McLeod’s Farm to School Program at Vanderhoof’s community garden, which is a distance away from EDS, Carpenter added.
“Fifteen to 20 years ago, we could have just bought a greenhouse and plop it there,” he said, adding that though the school district has stepped in to help, the greenhouse is now in the schools’ hands to manage and control.
As the years go on, the greenhouse will provide an outdoor learning environment for the school, he said.