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Student-run greenhouse cultivates learning at Eagle Hill Middle School

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Eagle Hill Middle School students are proving they’re not afraid of getting their hands dirty if it means improving the food they eat.

As part of a class project, eighth-grade students studying Family and Consumer Science (FACS) at the Fayetteville-Manlius middle school are rolling up their sleeves and turning their school’s once idle greenhouse into a space that provides them with fresh ingredients to cook with and consume during the family and life skills-focused class. 

“We want to revitalize it to its fullest potential,” said Eagle Hill FACS teacher Robin Brenner.

The undertaking is part of a project-based learning effort that - in addition to sharpening students’ gardening, teamwork and communication skills - is connecting students to the land, expanding their palates and demonstrating the importance of consuming healthy, locally-grown foods. 

“Working in the greenhouse is rewarding,” eighth-grade student Riley Burke said. “It’s neat to see where the food we eat comes from.”

Mrs. Brenner was inspired to begin teaching in the greenhouse, which was added onto the school building in the mid-1970s and hadn’t been used as a growing space in more than a decade, after learning about Stephen Ritz, an educator in South Bronx, New York, who builds space-saving vertical gardens in classrooms to get at-risk youth more engaged in school. Called the “Green Bronx Machine,” Mr. Ritz’s project teaches students about healthy eating while growing food to support notoriously poor communities.

“This past fall, we watched a video about Mr. Ritz during a staff development day,” Mrs. Brenner said. “I showed the video to my students, and together we began brainstorming ways we could implement some of his ideas at Eagle Hill.”

With the help of administrators, staff and community members, Mrs. Brenner and her students spent most of this school year restoring the school’s 335-square foot greenhouse and transforming it into a hands-on learning oasis.

“The initiative was truly a team effort,” she said.

First, the school’s custodial team cleaned the greenhouse and serviced all of its fixtures. It was then outfitted with various gardening supplies, including pots, planters, soil and tools – most of which were donated by community and staff members.

F-M science educators Tom Wells and Nick Kirby helped students draft a growing plan for the greenhouse and introduced them to alternative cultivation methods, such as using feed bags to harvest beans. 

“Everyone’s help was instrumental in launching and carrying out the project,” Mrs. Brenner said.

Shortly after the snow melted and spring made its local debut, eighth-grade students began working inside the greenhouse planting seeds, tending to sprouts and learning about sustainability. 

Part of the students’ growing plan involves planting crops they can utilize in the classroom, such as lettuce and onions for a lesson in healthy wrap-making and an assortment of herbs to complement made-from-scratch salad dressings.

Mrs. Brenner said having campus-grown produce accessible for classroom cooking lessons is convenient and reduces the amount of time and money she spends preparing for classes.

“I don’t have much gardening experience, but you don’t really need it to do this,” said Eagle Hill student Alyssa Eggert as she buried a handful of carrot seeds into a planter of soil. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Eagle Hill Middle School's greenhouse, which is attached to the school building, was originally built in the mid-1970s.

For the first time in more than a decade, the 335-square foot greenhouse is being used as a space for teaching and learning.

Inside the greenhouse, students are learning gardening methods, exercising teamwork and planting vegetables they can cook with and consume during Family and Consumer Science class.


Eighth-grade student Riley Burke tends to a planter of sprouting carrot seeds while working in the greenhouse in April.


Eagle Hill's Family and Consumer Science teacher Robin Brenner helps students select seeds for planting during a classroom session held in the greenhouse.

Before sowing them in soil, Eagle Hill students review instructions for planting fennel seeds.


Eighth-grade students studying Family and Consumer Science (FACS) at Eagle Hill Middle School gather for a photo after working in their school's greenhouse.

Family and Consumer Science (FACS) students use freshly-harvested vegetables from their school's greenhouse to prepare healthy wraps during a cooking lesson.


Related News:

Student run greenhouse cultivates learning - LocalSyr.com / News Channel 9

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