At the beginning of the school year, only the greenhouse's concrete pad was done. Six weeks later, it is taking shape as crews ready it for classroom use.

Recognizing the value of a greenhouse in increasing STEM education and interesting students in ag careers, Sully Buttes vocational ag instructor Andy Schmahl applied for a federal Perkins Reserve grant to fund the purchase of a greenhouse for the Sully Buttes school.

Schmahl looked to a colleague, Sara Colombe, the ag instructor with the Hoven School District for help in making his application. “They received a grant four years ago, so I used some of the same language in making my application,” said Schmahl. “It was very helpful.”

ABO had to commit to doing the prep work for the greenhouse. “Our grant was smaller than what Hoven got, and just for the greenhouse. The school had to pay for the concrete and other prep work, and the grant is for everything above the concrete.”

Citing student interest in plant sciences, Schmahl determined to pursue a grant for construction of a greenhouse. “Especially for local ag,” said Schmahl. “We can use the greenhouse to examine difference crops and fertilizer needs, and on top of that, there’s different tech things to it. We can distill to what plants need, like hydroponics, what plants do and don’t need.” Schmahl expects the greenhouse to be a facility that will support good experimentation exploration outside biology. “It can be programed, so there’s electronics, programming, sensors, mechanics; I can expand student knowledge into fascinating things.”

Schmahl says the greenhouse will be another teaching space that can be utilized, and not just be for the vocational ag students. “It’s a 18x36 foot space – bigger than my classroom,” said Schmahl. “We can share the space with students in Mrs. Lentz’s business classes, or she could explore farm to table in her cooking classes; elementary classes could use it to develop experiments for the academic fair.”

In addition to the plant structure experiments and business class applications, Schmahl says another area the greenhouse can be utilized is in developing marketable job skills.

“At certain times of the day, students can go out and clean the greenhouse, or water or label plants, something that will help some of our special ed students develop practical working skills and ideas for post high school jobs.”

“The plan is to see how many ways we can use it, provide it as an opportunity, and not just for ag, ideally.”