Westside Elementary School has a new place to help green thumbs and fresh produce thrive.
The Warner Robins school now has a greenhouse and outdoor classroom, which will be ready for students to work in after the holiday break.
These additions were built through a project by the Leadership Robins Region 2016 class. The annual program teaches skills to 20 to 25 rising businessmen and businesswomen, and members choose a project that meets a need in the region, said Aura Lee Durham, Robins Regional Chamber chief operating officer.
Westside Elementary was selected after students did a presentation for the chamber group, said Principal Cynthia Hammond. Two aeroponic towers — vertical food-production systems that use water and nutrients — were donated to the school two years ago, and the faculty and students have been growing fruits and vegetables in them.
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The school wanted to be able to conduct their projects year-round, but the Georgia climate wasn’t allowing it, Durham said. A lot of the produce was lost during the hottest and coldest months, Hammond said.
“They had a need for a greenhouse, so they could take their STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) initiatives a step further. They didn’t have access to the funds or the physical labor,” Durham said. “We could step in and go ahead and make that happen.”
The leadership class raised nearly $30,000 for the project and got others to donate their services. Members put together the outdoor classroom and worked with the Houston County Board of Education to select Atlas Greenhouse as the contractor for the “Plant a Dream” greenhouse, Durham said. Construction started in early November, the ribbon-cutting was held in December, and the aeroponic towers were scheduled to be moved into the greenhouse over the holiday break.
The greenhouse is 36 feet by 16 feet by 5 feet, with a concrete foundation and full water and electricity access, Durham and Hammond said. It has one raised garden bed, and at least four others will be added, Hammond said. The outdoor classroom has wooden tables and stump seats. It’s not covered but has a place where an umbrella can be set up.
Westside Elementary teachers regularly incorporate the greenhouse and gardens into their lesson plans, providing students with real-life, applicable knowledge. Each grade level has its own projects, and students see plants go from seed to salad bar. Students will be able to do experiments and writing assignments in the outdoor classroom.
“We are going to be able to save a lot of our produce. The kids are going to be able to work in the greenhouse and harvest what we have,” Hammond said. “We are so blessed that Leadership Robins helped us. They are our champions. They have invested in our future and in our children’s lives.”
Lettuce, tomatoes, zucchini, pickles, cucumbers, peppers, beans and collard greens are among the produce the school has grown, she said. The vegetables are served in the cafeteria; given to parents and students to take home; and donated to two church food pantries.