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Cutting Edge Greenhouse: Andrew High School Growing Minds and Gardens

The Victor J. Andrew High School greenhouse officially opened today with an open house for teachers and staff. T-Bolts treated staff to hand-painted pots and plants, all grown and cared for by students. In a show of support for VJA artists and horticulturists, the VJA staff added a touch of green to their homes or classrooms.


Soilless growing techniques, the impact of climate change on plant species, and a pollinator hotspot to help boost the dwindling bee population are just a few of the ways the new greenhouse at Andrew High School may be utilized.


“A greenhouse provides opportunities for so many authentic learning experiences. Our science teachers feel like kids in a candy store. We are so eager and excited to use the space,” said Division Chair for Science, Applied Technology and Family and Consumer Science Jame Holt.


The 1,152-square-foot greenhouse is climate-controlled for year-round use and is equipped with water and electricity. Paid for by ESSER grant funds, the greenhouse will help science teachers teach ecology, agriculture, biology -  everything from the life-cycle of plants to how weather affects growing conditions.


Beyond the obvious application to the sciences, a greenhouse can incorporate other disciplines and learning styles. “We hope to partner with Special Education Ultima students to help plant seeds, with Math and Construction classes to build raised garden beds, and with culinary classes to grow herbs,” Holt added. “It’s also possible that art students may find inspiration among greenhouse flowers and English students could find a quiet place to read and reflect.”


The Andrew Green Team Club, whose members help raise environmental awareness, appreciation for nature, and conservation of natural resources, hopes to utilize the garden in various ways. According to club sponsors and science teachers Sara Biallas and Kelly House, members have plans to start seeds, set up mini ecosystems to learn about biodiversity and conservation, discuss climate change, experiment with hydroponics and aquaponics, and grow plants that will be used to make terrariums for club fundraising.


“The level of environmental consciousness and awareness we will raise thanks to a greenhouse is terrific,” said Master Gardener and Andrew science teacher Carrie Ward.


The greenhouse complements the outdoor learning area with a small pollinator garden, compost bin, and rain barrels. Adjacent to the greenhouse, a sensory garden may augment the outdoor learning space with scent-filled herbs, colorful flowers, and wind chimes. The greenhouse may even inspire a nature field guide of native, as well as invasive or unintended, vegetation produced by students/for students.


Enrichment opportunities are abundant as well. Ward envisions teaching students about growing their food and having beds dedicated to salsa, pizza, and pesto ingredients. She said that harvesting the plants for the recipes and using the school culinary kitchens to make them would be ideal.


Additionally, the greenhouse will have implications far beyond the classroom or after-school co-curriculars. Partnerships with master gardeners, the Forest Preserve District, and the Orland Grasslands could inspire careers in urban landscaping, urban development, or urban planning. Learning about food habitats for bees and butterflies or the benefits of composting could inspire students to start a pollinator or vegetable garden at home.

“When authentic learning experiences come full circle, when learning moves beyond a lesson, and when students can experience things hands-on, the more it enriches the learning experience,” Holt said.