US (ME): Solar greenhouse offers learning opportunity in Saco

Thanks to the perseverance of one determined teacher at Saco Middle School in Maine, students there are getting great hands-on experience in a greenhouse, to compliment their lessons in the classroom.

Last week at the middle school, science teacher David Shaw – along with other staff and students – hosted an open house at the greenhouse, which utilizes solar heat. Shaw spoke about the work being done there and showed slides of the fruits of their labor.

This story is truly an inspiring one, because, as Shaw said, when he first sought funding for the project four years ago, he had a difficult time due to the down economy. He said he received many words of encouragement, but no money for his vision.

He eventually not only received financial donations, but 'in-kind' donations and the greenhouse was completed in the summer of 2012. One contractor put in a concrete slab foundation, and another assembled the structure at no cost to Shaw.

Now, students are able to work in the greenhouse and even eat the produce they grow in their school’s cafeteria. Students in the school’s ecology club grew lettuce last year, which was used in meals at the school. This year, the students got a couple of grow lights donated, which will extend the hours of light needed to grow tomatoes. Shaw and his students are going to conduct an experiment, with a batch of tomato plants under the grow lights and another one without the lights. If they can prove the lights helped the tomato plants grow, the donor will give them another light, according to Shaw.

This is a fantastic project, and we’re pleased to see that Shaw stuck with it. Now the students at Saco Middle School can learn some gardening skills that will help supplement what they learn in science and math, and hopefully pique their interest in growing a garden at home.

Teachers – beyond just Shaw – can use the students’ interest in the greenhouse to engage them in the classroom through lesson plans about nutrition, plant processes like photosynthesis, the math required to plan and plot out a garden space, and so much more. It can be difficult to reach students today, who literally have the world at their fingertips with smartphones, tablets and laptops, so bringing them back to the basics is important.

In addition to the educational benefits, there will likely be health benefits as well. When a student sees that a seed they planted grows into lettuce or tomatoes that they can eat, they will likely be more inclined to partake of those foods – which may not be so appetizing when their parents are serving them. Some students may even be inspired to start their own garden or greenhouse at home, which can save their families money while providing an outdoor activity in which an entire family can participate.

The students and staff – and especially Shaw – should be proud of this accomplishment, as should the businesses and individuals that donated to make it happen. Hopefully schools throughout the district will be able to replicate this project.


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