In 2002, when the Briarcliff School District in Briarcliff, New York, built its current middle school, several teachers suggested that some space should be left for a greenhouse. A few years went by before Life Sciences teacher Bob Iovino, and a few motivated students, put the blueprint into effect - thus giving the school a chance to be part of a future that strives for sustainability. Today, it not only complements the curriculum, but gives the members of the "Greenhouse Club" their first steps outside the walls of the classroom.
"It gives them a good foundation for a working lab andshows them science in the real world," says Mr. Iovino. Starting out with five members, the club has grown to include 20 students and meets officially every Friday after school.
But for Mr. Iovino's part as club advisor, an hour once a week doesn't quite describe his commitment. "It's pretty much 24/7," he says, as students are engaged with him before, during and after school.
Of course, the club's intent of conveying the importance of sustainability cannot really resonate unless the members subsist on more than just a passion to plant. Annual plant and seed sales generate the money to buy the supplies needed to keep the greenhouse going, says Mr. Iovino.
Nonetheless - for the greenhouse or their outdoor garden - Briarcliff has little chance of being over run by beetles, but recently the real world came a calling in the form of an aphid infestation. Putting the living data under the microscope, he says, "We researched what was happening to the plants and what we needed to do to fix it."
In turn, they contained the situation by relocating infested plants outside into the cold weather. Unfortunately, several had to be sacrificed back to the soil, which was upsetting to the kids because of all the time invested. On the other hand, it tied back to their studies. "I talk about the cycle of life, and how recycling helps enrich the soil," he says.
This lesson, and the like, seem to have been forgotten by the convention farming means that dominate today. In excessively using pesticides, farmers take a shortcut around science, leaving us an even longer road back to environmental sustainability.
So as picky eaters lose, the tomatoes gain but going green doesn't just contain itself to life sciences or healthier string beans. "My purpose is to get other teachers to bring their classes in and make it cross curriculum," he says. Social Studies classes tie sustainable farming to ancient societies, math students measure growth progress and last year the art students spent six months on a greenhouse mural.
In addition, the greenhouse can keep other classes from becoming boring for his students. Displacing the malaise by connecting the subject matter to the green, he says, "I do find that this is a motivational tool for students if they are struggling in another class."
No reason then to limit what the greenhouse has sewn to just Briarcliff. "My students created a video series, 'how to plant and how to garden,'" he says. Looking out, Mr. Iovino shared the production with an Autism class at Hawthorne Country Day School, which kicked off a series of letters back and forth between the students.
Soon enough, Hawthorne had a city garden of their own on 143rd Street and last year culminated with both classes meeting in Briarcliff to share gardening ideas. Still, regardless of the different learning styles, enthusiasm and passion came across the same for both sets of students, says Mr. Iovino.
Finally, with the first class completing its own three year cycle, the growth spurts have not just been contained to the pee plants. The autonomy translates to ideas and their own controlled experiments, which ultimately turns students to teachers. "They've kind of become my extension," he says - passing their knowledge to the younger kids.
Now, that's sustainability.