The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

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December 1, 2013

Learning in green

High school adds greenhouse to courtyard

SHARPSVILLE — TUCKED away at the center of Sharpsville High School’s outside courtyard you’ll find a brand new greenhouse.

The 15-by-28, 12-foot high greenhouse, filled only with wooden tables made by Ryan Miller’s shop class, will soon be turned into a living classroom.

“There are great little green lessons to be learned here,” said Kirk Scurpa, high school principal.

Its ample space could fit more than 900 hanging baskets inside, according to Frank Bertolasio, transition coordinator for the district.

Heading up the effort for the living classroom are Scurpa, Bertolasio and Allison Saeler, high school biology teacher, and Wade Hoagland, building and grounds director.

“This is a cross-curriculum endeavor,” Saeler said. “We want to make connections in all classes.”

Starting with Bertolasio’s expertise in teaching life skills to students.

Almost every high school teacher has come forward with ways in which they would use the greenhouse.

“We have a lot of different ideas,” Saeler said. “It’s been quite a schoolwide effort.”

Teachers will use a non-traditional method of teaching in using the greenhouse, but will stick to the core curriculum, Scurpa said.

One of the goals they hope to accomplish is to make the greenhouse self-sustaining.

The project cost $15,000, paid for with a $7,500 state 2011 Environmental Education grant and matching district funds.

The grant money is doled out to schools who must use it for outdoor learning projects related to the environmental and ecology.

“Hopefully we’ll also be able to make money,” Scurpa said.

Ideas for fundraising include selling plants as Mother’s Day gifts and selling vegetables at different times of the year.

Plans are to collaborate with local growers and other businesses to teach students hands-on skills for career retention.

The school has already established a partnership with Dennis James, owner of DJ’s Greenhouse in Delaware Township.

James volunteered countless hours, taking part in everything from grant writing to constructing the greenhouse.

Ideas that may result in partnering with other local businesses come from almost every educational program in the school.

Landscaping was a popular topic when teachers talked about ways to utilize the greenhouse. The plan is to use one project as a way to teach multiple subjects. The living classroom can serve to teach biology, math, statistics, art, and chemistry.

Examples of proposed projects involve learning about chemicals, using water barrels to catch rainwater, weather projects, moss art and sculptures, organic cooking, and life choices in health.

Scurpa, Hoagland, Saeler and Bertolasio were practically finishing each other’s sentences in their excitement of future teaching opportunities.

Plans for a greenhouse date to 2011 in Sharpsville. Scurpa said there were little hiccups along the way.

Hoagland and Miller designed the greenhouse.

“Wade wanted to make sure it was built right,” Bertolasio said. “He made it more functional.”

“Wade’s leadership had a lot to do with this being built,” Scurpa said.

Wade’s team was tasked with clearing out, then bringing materials into the courtyard, which sits outside with four school walls around it. In many instances, they were forced to go up and over the school to accomplish their task, instead of through it.

Plans are already forming, even though the greenhouse is up, but not yet running.

Having a second greenhouse is one of them.

“Making this whole courtyard usable is just as exciting as the greenhouse itself,” Hoagland said.

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