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Greenhouse project gives Palmer High students new skills

November 5, 2015 Updated: November 6, 2015 at 8:05 am
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Seniors Hector Sanchez, left, Max Scheer and Kalob Aigner frame plexigass as they get ready to build new greenhouses Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015, at Palmer High School. Palmer students in the Alternative Cooperative Education program are building the greenhouses with about 15 volunteers from Home Depot Thursday as they learn how to start and operate an small business selling vegetables and herbs. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Palmer High School students ignored their runny noses, numb fingers and shivering bodies Thursday as they measured, cut and lifted wooden beams and plastic panels. They were able to put aside their physical discomfort because their thoughts were on spring, and the leafy green plants that will emerge from their fall labor.

"It's going to be good for Palmer," said senior Hector Sanchez, a student project manager. "We've gotten to do some hard work, and the kids that come after us will get to enjoy it."

Fifty students in Leslie Wolken's alternative cooperative education classes, which focus on teaching employable skills, are building a large greenhouse in the courtyard at Palmer.

They have help from parents, neighbors and 17 Home Depot volunteers.

"There's nothing like excited young people," said DeRoy Skinner, department supervisor of flooring at the Home Depot on Woodmen Road and Academy Boulevard. "They've been real energetic and eager to learn."

Not only are the juniors and seniors learning about the construction process, the students' efforts also will launch a new business at the downtown school, Wolken said.

"I want the kids to walk away from this experience understanding all the work that goes into budgeting and the sweat and labor of starting a business and marketing it to be successful," she said.

The project started this semester when Wolken told students she wanted the class to use a defunct greenhouse in the Palmer quad to grow seedlings and sell the mature plants to the school's chef training program. Students familiar with the decrepit structure told her it would need some improvements first.

"Little did they know what they were getting into," Wolken said.

Skinner's grandson, who is in Wolken's class, asked his grandpa if he could borrow tools to see if he and some other students could fix up the old greenhouse. When Skinner found out why the students needed tools, he asked his boss if he and other Home Depot employees could lend a hand.

The project grew from having the students do a simple remodeling job to building a whole new green house, said store manager Kyle Reynolds.

That's often the case with community projects, he said.

"We've done veteran's houses where we plan to re-do one room and we do six," he said.

Reynolds praised the students for their willingness to get in there and get 'er done.

"They've been awesome, very receptive," he said.

Students have worked for weeks to select a design, propose materials needed, create a budget using spreadsheets, learn about advertising and marketing and make other business decisions.

Construction should be finished this week. The greenhouse will feature two 8-foot-by-8-foot buildings side-by-side with 4-foot clear plexiglass, a corrugated roof and a ventilation system.

"We're walking them through how to build this, and the students are doing the actual construction," Skinner said. "It gives the kids a chance to learn how to do something a little different."

Students have started growing herbs and vegetables from seed in an empty space inside the school and will move the operation to the greenhouse.

Senior Claudia Sopak said she wanted to learn about starting a business because she plans to attend cosmetology school and open a salon.

"The class helped me learn how to budget and about debt and how to manage what I'm spending, and what's important and what's not," she said.

Claudia also is filming the project and will produce a video. Another student is composing original music to accompany the film.

"It's a good class," she said, "and it's so cool so many people came out to help us."

In addition to the Home Depot volunteers, a parent contributed a stack of plexiglass, Tuff Shed donated trusses, Pioneer Sand gave 2 tons of gravel for the greenhouse floor and the school pitched in $1,300 from a grant. Jersey Mike's Subs and Einstein Brothers Bagels donated much-appreciated food.

"Out of the goodness of their hearts people have contributed and volunteered to show the kids how to do things and help make this successful," Wolken said. "We couldn't have done it without them."

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