Gonzales rejuvenating greenhouse with grant

Fifth-grade science teacher Natalie Baeza, fifth-graders Addyson Peralez and Brooklyn McDowell and ECISD Science Curriculum Specialist Diane Harlan pose in the greenhouse at Gonzales Elementary School. The Education Foundation grant Harlan was awarded will go toward planting, recycling and composting. (Ruth Campbell | Odessa American)

What started off as a request from two then-fourth graders at Gonazales Elementary School turned into an Education Foundation grant that has rejuvenated the campus greenhouse and gotten children interested in plants, composting and recycling.

Ector County ISD Science Curriculum Specialist Diane Harlan was awarded the $2,155.99 grant titled “Gardening: A Solution for Less Pollution.”

Harlan supports several campuses in prekindergarten through 12th grade science. Currently, the project involves fourth and fifth graders.

The younger grades will study tomato plant lifecyles, so they are going to plant tomatoes.

“Previously, they had a greenhouse here and they had some roofing work done and it got damaged. The roofing company built them a brand new, beautiful greenhouse that was sitting empty. … We talked to maintenance, and they came in and … put in a walkway and gravel and tables and now it’s fully equipped. It’s got the irrigation system and it’s wonderful, but again, it was sitting empty,” Harlan said.

Start-up money was the biggest issue. Harlan contacted Angie Moad, the principal then, now retired, and told her she wanted to write a grant to get the greenhouse started again.

Adonica Galindo is now the principal.

“She (Moad) passed on to me a letter from a couple of fourth grade students (Addyson Peralez and Brooklyn McDowell) that they had a desire to not only use the greenhouse, but learn some composting and start recycling here at the campus. We brainstormed and decided we could combine all of that into this grant,” Harlan said.

The letter says, “Fourth grade was wondering if we could start a recycling program for fifth grade year. It would encourage the younger students to recycle. It would also give us a chance to use the garden,” Harlan said. By garden they meant greenhouse.

“A way for us to use the greenhouse is mulching binds to put food scraps and compost and soil. We could also grow our own fruit and vegetables. It would show the younger Bulldogs (the school mascot) that recycling is a good thing. Bulldogs are responsible, respectful, ready and remarkable. Sincerely, Brooklyn and Addyson in fourth grade.”

That’s why the grant was named A Solution for Less Pollution so they could tie in the composting.

“We have a committee that meets monthly to just discuss where we are in the project; the two girls their entire families are involved. And so one of the fathers is the one picking up the recycling and getting it to the recycling center, so it’s really turning into a great project. My goal was to get it started for them so that they could carry it on and take it as far as they would like to,” Harlan said.

The girls’ families are also involved. One of the fathers is picking up the recycling and taking it to the recycling center.

She added that there are many state curriculum elements, or Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, that can be addressed using the greenhouse.

“So not only the recycling, the conservation of materials, but now they’re getting into life science. We’ve been able to tie in soil investigations and we’ll get into plant life cycles. We plan to utilize a program through Texas A&M, Learn, Grow, Eat & Go, that we’ve done in the past at other campuses that’s going to go beautifully into the greenhouse. We made sure we were bought enough materials that everyone on campus, all our students, can plant. That’s where I’m saying we’re going to be able to tie in spring comes life science for our TEKS, for our scope and sequence, so we’re going to make sure everyone is getting to grow in that greenhouse. Right now we have a few plants in there. We’ve begun our composting, so it’s all at ground level, kind of. But throughout the school year, I hope they get the vision to see where they want to take this,” Harlan said.

The two students, Peralez, and McDowell, both 11-year-old fifth-graders, who wrote the letter to Moad have younger siblings that are also involved.

“I know it can continue even when they go on to middle school next year because it’s become a family project with them. We’ve done Saturday work days to work on the greenhouse and it’s just been a great project. Tammy Hawkins (ECISD board member) has been involved with us. She’s super excited about it. She comes to our meetings, and has supported us and so that’s nice, too. To have support from the top down is great,” Harlan said.

She doesn’t know what the future holds plant-wise. There’s the possibility of poinsettias and discussion of fifth-graders planting trees on the grounds when they leave as a legacy.

“I don’t know exactly where it will lead. I just know it’s a wonderful building and I wanted kids to get excited,” Harlan said.

They also are trying to get the PTA involved.

Harlan said this is her first Education Foundation grant.

“I was super excited. I had to let everybody know immediately we got it! We got it and let them know we were going to get to use the greenhouse. The secretary here has had a desire to … get it started. Also, she’s the one that got maintenance to do all that work to it,” Harlan said.

She added that Moad wants to come back and see the greenhouse and what they’ve been able to do.

Harlan said Peralez and McDowell said it makes them feel good to be able to do this for their school and they hope it will carry on through their younger siblings.

Fifth-grade science teacher Natalie Baeza said she was surprised by how much of an impact anyone can have. Baeza and Patsy Rey, fourth grade science teacher, are also involved in the project.

“These girls started it and … it was just something that took off and they’re starting a large impact for our school, so hopefully years down the line they can come back and be like, hey, I started that. That’s going to be pretty cool,” Baeza said.

Harlan said she would encourage other teachers to apply for foundation grants.

“Without that money we wouldn’t have gotten as far as we have already,” Harlan said.

She added that she just followed the template for writing the grant and was pleasantly surprised when she was notified of the award.

“I spent basically I guess an afternoon writing it and then of course go back and edit and probably second guess, is this enough? Is this going convince them? I think I spent the most time on the title because I’ve always been told if the title catches their eye, that’s the way to have the most possibility to get chosen. So I spent a long time on a title that fit,” Harlan said.