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Greenhouse enriches learning at Southwick School

Southwick students Abby Ruggles, Shiloh Piovano and Caidyn Carter pose for a photo with the winter greens they and their classmates have helped grow in a new greenhouse at Southwick Elementary School. (Photo by Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
April 03, 2019
NORTHFIELD – Students in grades three through five at Southwick School in Northfield are enjoying a unique Unified Arts learning experience this year thanks to teacher Brian Winslow, who worked to bring a greenhouse to the school through a Schoolyard Action Grant.

The greenhouse is a 22-by-48-foot structure that students got to watch while it was being constructed beside their play area. Once all the main panels and components were in place, though, their input was requested to finish phase one of the project.

"We had them all come together to pitch their designs for raised (plant) beds along one side of the greenhouse," Winslow said. "What they finally decided on was a zigzag construction that allowed easy access to the beds with a reach of no more than two-feet from each side."

Using math and business skills, the students also figured out the financial budget to operate the greenhouse with costs for loam, seeds and lumber for the beds included.

"This all started as not only a science project, but a hypothetical business model for the students to address, and they've done a great job," said Winslow.

When the greenhouse and half of its interior design was completed, students sowed their seeds, which included hardy, cold weather greens such as spinach, mizuna, mache and arugula.

"Greens grow sweet in the winter, and these blend really nice for a winter salad, which is why we selected them for this year," Winslow explained.

Once planted, students then began monitoring the plants' growth patterns through measurements and fractions. Once their plants matured, students found there is another delicious benefit to growing vegetables; they recently harvested their first crops, which were enjoyed as part of their school lunch last month. Their next harvest of salad greens will be shared with Winnisquam Middle School students.

"I like the fact that we got to eat the vegetables we've grown all winter," said fifth grade student Shiloh Piovano.

Classmate Abby Ruggles agreed, adding, "I like that we've grown our own food and achieved the goal of growing things that were edible."

Caidyn Carter, another fifth grade student at Southwick, was one of several who partnered up to submit designs for the interior layout of the greenhouse. She said creating structural designs was something she has done with her dad in the past and she was pleased her team's design was chosen for the new greenhouse.

"I thought about something I did a long time ago with my dad and came up with the idea for the zigzag beds," she said. "I think this is cool. It's very interesting that we get to grow our own vegetables here at school."

The project doesn't end there, however. Winslow said they are still looking to add more seedbeds to the other side of the greenhouse, along with an aquaponic tank.

"The aquaponic tank will include fish that will help provide nutrients to the plants we grow," Winslow said. "It's a model ecosystem that will be good for the students to observe through a more sustainable environment."

Another business model Winslow has presented to the students at Southwick this year is the germination of Echinacea and lavender seeds that were planted to be ready in time for Mother's Day. After starting the seeds under grow lights in his science class, students have made regular measurements of their plants' growth, checked soil temperatures, hydration of the soil, and heat levels. As the plants continue to grow, plans are now underway for students to make their own clay pots for the flowering plants in their art classes.

"While the kids think it's cool to grow these plants, they also realize there are people out there who do this for a living," said Winslow.

Keeping that in mind, the students were once again required to address this as any businessman would. They are asked to consider the cost for the seeds they selected and decide on a price they might sell the mature plants for, taking the price of loam, containers and other factors into consideration. Once again, it's an overall project, Winslow pointed out, that includes science, math, business and art, but in the end, this will include family when they take the plants home.

In Winslow's classroom right now, the students are also excited as they watch the growth of baby fish they are raising through the Trout in the Classroom project. Those fish will be released into nearby waters once they've reached their desired growth.

As Winslow continues his quest to introduce students to the wonders and excitement found in joining agriculture, science, business, art and math together, there are other fun and educational projects already being lined up for students in the future.

"There's a lot of cool stuff going on here at Southwick School right now, and I'm just so glad to be a part of it," said Winslow.

Tiffany Eddy
Martin Lord Osman
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