New greenhouse will help Shelton school’s gardening program grow

Perry Hill School’s gardening program will be growing yet again - this time thanks to a new greenhouse.

The Board of Aldermen, at its meeting last week, approved $4,300 for the purchase of the greenhouse, which Principal Lorraine Williams said would further enhance the school’s gardening program.

“We did similar things with Shelton High School and the intermediate school over the last several years,” Mayor Mark Lauretti said. “It’s not a new concept, but I think it is a very positive one to get kids engaged in things that they will be able to do for the rest of their life, like gardening.”

The school now has an outdoor classroom, with plenty of Adirondack chairs for students to sit in and experience being outdoors during a lesson. The area also has several garden beds, where students plant and tend to various crops. Students are also responsible for weeding the area.

“It’s a good skills builder, and a lot of fun for all of us,” said special education teacher Deb Tucker, who runs the operation with fellow teachers Melissa Fenstermaker, Courtney Dishian, Genna Rua and Liz Vicidomino.

The outdoor classroom was created in the 2013-14 school year, when Fenstermaker said her students voiced their hope that lessons could be given in the area, which at the time was filled with weeds and overgrowth. She said ‘why not,” and she joined in her class in cleaning out the area.

Fenstermaker said that one of her students won $100 in an essay contest and used that money to buy five chairs for the area.

“That was the start, and we’ve been growing ever since,” Fenstermaker said.

Tucker said they then applied for and received thousands of dollars in grants and donations from the school’s Parent Teacher Association to clean up the area and purchase more chairs. At present, 32 fifth and sixth grade classes and some seven special education classes use the area for lessons.

Williams said the program allows students and staff to work together to plan, maintain, harvest, and cook healthy meals using garden crops.

She added that the program ties into the schools’ science, language arts, math, health, and social studies curriculum while also allowing students a “real-world look into why we study what we do.

“What better way to help foster a love of learning than to let them experience the benefits for themselves,” Williams said. “We are very excited to add the greenhouse to our endeavor.”

Williams said the greenhouse will be installed this summer, with programs starting next fall. The greenhouse will allow the students to continue their gardening work during the winter months.

The greenhouse will be placed on a portion of the existing courtyard. Tucker also praised Lauretti for covering the costs of creating two large gardens in an outdoor area near the lower gymnasium. She said the long-term plan is also to begin using hydroponics on site.

Tucker said Lauretti got on board with the projects after a tour earlier this year. She said her students wrote letters to the mayor asking for a donation of pea gravel to use in the outdoor classroom. He responded by coming for a tour, at which point he asked what the long-term plan was, and that is when she said the greenhouse and gardens.

“We plan to use the crops to teach students basic cooking skills and to provide for local food shelters, such as Spooner House,” Williams said. “We also want to begin teaching students to compost and save water for our plants.

“The children have so many fun and educational ideas that they would like to implement, and we were able to get some help to keep that momentum going,” she added.