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A school system that is growing more than just the future of its students

Liam with fresh veggies from the greenhouse

The Whitefish Township Greenhouse

Students taking care of daily greenhouse duties

Whitefish Township Community Schools in Paradise, Michigan, found that hosting a greenhouse on school grounds serves as a hands-on teaching tool for reinforcing academic principals, social awareness and wellness.
The greenhouse was originally built several years ago under the direction of then science teacher, later principal and superintendent, Nate Beelen, with assistance from the 4-H Club. In the years since, the greenhouse has been a source of learning for the students and community.
One hard lesson learned occurred when a heavy winter storm caused the greenhouse to collapse, requiring extensive roof repair. But thanks to well-timed grants and community involvement, money was available to restore the active school greenhouse.
The original beds were removed and reconfigured to maximize growing room and minimize congestion for water hoses, wheelbarrows and enthusiastic students. Not only were the growing beds moved and reconstructed, the students also built up the soil by working in natural fertilizer and soil amendments. 
Seedlings were started indoors in science classes and then moved out to the greenhouse as weather permitted. By the end of the school year, the greenhouse was alive and well with a variety of flowers and vegetables.
“This project has impacted our students by getting them to ask questions about things that they eat,” said Tom McKee, superintendent and K-12 principal of Whitefish Township Community Schools. “We have tried to stress the importance of taking care of our planet and doing what they can here at school and at home to make as little of an imprint on our planet as possible. The lessons learned from a bed of carrots failing, to the crossbreeding of flowers and creating the right mix of soil, is something that sparks our students’ imaginations every time they enter the greenhouse.”
This fall, the students harvested corn, squash, pumpkins, peppers, carrots, leaf lettuce, Brussels sprouts, sunflowers, tomatoes and five types of herbs. The peppers, lettuce and tomatoes were used in the cafeteria to make homemade salsa. Several herbs were also dried using different techniques, and a spaghetti lunch is planned to test the results.
“The whole greenhouse is under the care of the students,” McKee said. “Composting is a daily job that the students do. Once our lunch is over, the students collect their compost buckets from the cafeteria and bring them outside to the compost piles. They are responsible for ensuring that the greenhouse roof is clear of snow so we don’t have another collapse. They are also responsible for watering, rotating and caring for all the plants. The addition of a worm bed has added a new element of responsibility to our students as well.”
The educational purpose of this greenhouse is that it offers lifelong skills students get to experience year-round. The greenhouse also serves as an example of what can be accomplished when the community and school come together to support the students.
“The students are looking at the world a little differently and asking the questions that need to be asked when it comes to fruits and vegetables we consume in our daily lives,” McKee said. “We live in an area with a high poverty rate, so teaching our students to grow their own food and manage their own crops is a life lesson we are hoping will get passed on to their children one day.”
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