By David Fleet
Goodrich- Five watermelon plants, five radishes plants, six corn plants, two bachelor buttons and a couple succulents.
Twenty plants flourishing on a late October day—months before even a glimmer of spring will emerge.
Fifteen year old Madison Ayotte, a high school sophomore proudly tends to her plants, thriving in the balmy Oaktree greenhouse.
“I’m really excited to eat my watermelon when they get big,” said Ayotte. “It’s about leaning to be self sustainable and helping out with the earth in the little ways I can.”
Ayotte is just one of 33 students enrolled in the first high school horticulture class lead by Dr. Rick Sweeney.
“I’m learning with them,” said Sweeney, a veteran GHS teacher of more than 30 years. “The students love it, learning what they can grow, how to make cuttings, rooting. The class enrollment is overflowing for next semester already.”
The students learn how to nurture and grow plants promoting self sustainable gardens. They focus on ways to improve plants and ways of growing them, including techniques such as cutting. They also work with both annual and perennial flowering plants plus study the environment along with ecosystems. After graduation, the class will spark an opportunity for careers in agriculture, horticulture, botany, and just growing vegetable in family gardens.
“It’s a hands on experience for students,” he said. “They see the plant as it grows and are excited about it.”
Constructed about 17 years ago, the 96-feet-by-20 structure which featured a steel frame and a translucent polyvinyl covering was originally a work place for students to utilize a hands-on classroom. However, a series of wind storms, including a nearby Atlas Township tornado in 2014, devastated the onetime outdoor covered classroom used for science classes.
Then in 2017, Seniors Jared Hernandez and Evan Bierkamp along with a host of community members created a plan to rebuild the dilapidated remnants of the greenhouse just south of Oaktree Elementary School.
Since that time the community has rallied to get the project growing for the students.
“The community has come to my rescue,” said Sweeney. “Goodrich has been great to me. It’s unbelievable what people have donated to get this project going.”
Everything from bags of dirt to bulbs from the Netherlands to seeds have been provided by community members to keep the greenhouse going for the students, he added.
“I have a lot of outside help,” he said. “Many have donated their time for the students.”
Alexis Overland a high school sophomore worked on filling small pots with soil during the class.
“This class gives us a break for the classroom and we also get a chance to learn would we never would have the opportunity,” she said. “I did not plant or garden before this class. Honestly, I had no idea about plants.”
The horticulture class provided a new look at science for her, she said.
“After just two months I now understand aspects of science and how plants grow,” she said.
Classmate Sophomore Dyllan Johnston recognized some of the accomplishments from the class.
“When we came here two months ago there was just dry dirt in these pots filled with dead plants,” said Johnston. “Some students never had planted a seed. Now they are growing. We have accomplished something together as a class.”