Royal Valley breaks ground on greenhouse
By Ali Holcomb
Royal Valley High School FFA officers broke ground on a new greenhouse Thursday after receiving a $10,000 grant from America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education, which is sponsored by the Monsanto Fund.
The greenhouse is being built for agriculture students at the school, and it will allow them to grow vegetable crops and bedding plants, calculate fertilizer applications, plan layouts for maximum yield, perform various propagation practices and experience many aspects of running a horticulture business.
“One of the key shifts in the Next Generation Science Standards states that science education should reflect the interconnected nature of science as it is practiced and experienced in the real world," said Susan Pfrang, director of curriculum and instruction for USD 337. “Agriculture is the perfect backdrop for the application of science.”
The greenhouse will provide students with the laboratory space to conduct experiments and projects and will be operational from September through May. The structure will include roof vents, heaters and fans.
“When students step into a greenhouse, the classroom environment changes, and the opportunities for investigating and hands-on learning begins,” added Pfrang. “Learning in the greenhouse will challenge students to think scientifically about agriculture as it is applied in everyday life.”
Kim Mitchell, agriculture teacher, said that there are more than 80 students enrolled in agriculture classes this semester, and the school’s FFA Chapter has 34 members. The chapter was reinstated at Royal Valley last year after it was disbanded in 2005.
“The chapter has really thrived this past year,” Mitchell said. “Our B Team recently took home first in a dairy judging contest, and our students have also placed at a land judging contest.”
Mitchell said that giving the students access to a greenhouse will improve their learning.
“This will be a whole new classroom and a learning lab,” she said. “We’ll be able to take everything we’re learning and apply it by doing experiments. The kids are really excitied about this new opportunity.”
Right now, students are growing some plants in the agriculture classroom using florescent lights and metal bookshelves.
Support for a greenhouse in the district began growing even before the district was nominated for the grant. In February, Jackson County farmer Sandy Rickel directed a $2,500 donation to the re-established agriculture education program. Rickel received the grant through the America’s Farmers Grow Communities program.
“Without the support of our local farmers, we would not be in the position to continue to grow our agriculture education program and expand the opportunities for our students,” Pfrang said.
This past spring, several local farmers nominated the district for a chance to apply for the $10,000 grant. Those farmers included Jerod Ribelin, Jerry and Chasity Rickel, Jim and Sandra Rickel, Kyle Ribelin and Gayle Stithem.
Districts throughout the Midwest were nominated, and school administrators then designed a math or science-based project for the grant application. Once all of the school district applications were submitted, a panel of math and science teachers reviewed each application and selected finalists.
An advisory council, composed of farmer-leaders with an interest in agriculture and education, then selected the winning grant applications from a pool of finalists.
“Agriculture has become one of the most technologically advanced industries, so farmers are very aware of the need for superior math and science education, particularly in their own communities,” said Monsanto Customer Advocacy Lead Linda Arnold. “We are proud to partner with farmers to support the things that are most important to them - schools, youth and their community.”
Royal Valley celebrated receiving the grant on Thursday during the groundbreaking ceremony for the greenhouse. Nominating farmers, school representatives and local Monsanto representatives Brian Garrett and Pamela Schlodder attended the event.
The greenhouse, which will sit behind the elementary and high schools, will measure 30 feet by 48 feet. Members of the school board plan to bid out contractors for the construction of the greenhouse in the next few months, with construction expected to begin late winter or early spring.
The greenhouse is expected to cost $42,000 plus installation and additional site work.