Dalton High revives greenhouse

Ryan Anderson, The Daily Citizen, Dalton, Ga.
·3 min read

Apr. 10—Dalton High School's introduction of a new botany course this school year has led to the revitalization of the campus greenhouse, but that required covering a lot of ground.

"There was stuff everywhere (when we came in here)," said Annette Buckner, one of the botany teachers. The list of "what we didn't need to do" was much shorter than the list of "what we needed to do."

"The air conditioner had been turned off for a long time and had algae growth," said fellow botany teacher Sharlinda Haight. "The sprinkler system is hit or miss, because some of the sprinklers have lime deposits."

In the future, botany teachers would like to improve the sprinkling system, ideally employing an automated system, Haight said.

"We don't want (plants) to die during the summer when we're not here."

"We needed to learn the whole greenhouse," Haight added. It's "a fairly complicated system you have to stay on top of."

The entire science department, not just botany teachers Buckner, Haight and Chase Pritchett, aided last spring and summer in preparing the greenhouse for the 2020-21 academic year, said Jessica Ashlock, an assistant principal who oversees the science department.

"The maintenance department has been really nice, too, pitching in, and everyone is excited."

"We are very excited that we were able to add botany as a class this year, (and) our greenhouse provides a great outdoor classroom for students to apply the skills and knowledge they are learning," said Stephanie Hungerpiller, Dalton High's principal. "Our science teachers worked together over the summer to clean out and prepare the greenhouse for the return of our students, (and) it (was) great to see their enthusiasm and teamwork in preparing for this new course."

Students planted rows upon rows of flowers and plants in late January, then began exploring hydroponics in mid-February.

"It's water-based, and you don't use soil," said Buckner. Instead, "you put nutrients" the plants would receive from soil into the water.

And "it's a closed system," Pritchett said. "We reuse the water."

Hydroponics is ideal for planting when space is at a premium, as well as areas with poor soil quality, Haight said. "You can (grow) vertically, too" — in Sweden, for example, "they have plants growing vertically up to the top of greenhouses."

Students are highly engaged in the greenhouse, Buckner said.

"Some of them have never had their hands in the dirt before, and it's therapeutic."

They've "taken a sense of ownership, and they get right to work, because they enjoy what they do," Pritchett said. In academia, typically "you get a score, but (in the greenhouse), you can see the product at the end."

Each teacher's students planted different crops, so there's a healthy competition among students, and "they're always saying, 'Ours is better,'" he said. "I think they'll be surprised by how well everything does by the spring."

It is "more than just science," Ashlock said. "There's pride, too, (because) they're invested."

Sophomore Odajah Mitchell enjoys the class, especially because it leads to time in the greenhouse.

"I like it, and I like growing plants," she said. "It's more hands-on" than a traditional classroom or virtual instruction.

Freshman Loriana Ocampo concurred.

"The best thing about botany (class) is coming in here to plant," she said. "It's more hands-on" learning in the greenhouse, and "I feel like I learn more while doing it" this way.

The greenhouse can educate more than just the high school's students, too, Ashlock said. Students from elementary schools and middle schools could visit to enhance learning at their school.

The high school students will sell the plants at a community sale, and the funds will be used for needs in the greenhouse and botany course, Ashlock said.

Staff members will shop the sale Thursday from 3 to 4:30 p.m., with members of the community welcome to shop the following day during the same time period, Buckner said. Plants will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.