Students and faculty of St. Joseph School in Herndon gathered in the courtyard to watch Third Order Regular Franciscan Father Tom Bourque, pastor, bless their new greenhouse last month. The new structure, 9-by-22 foot, will be integrated into the school’s science classes and students activities and will benefit local charities.
The glass greenhouse sits outside the school science lab. A door will be added to allow access from the classroom. The temperature within the greenhouse is controlled through a ventilation system to keep plants warm during the approaching winter. The space can accommodate a class and includes two long tables stacked with shelving units. Students will grow both edible and nonedible plants will be grown. Currently, there’s a lime tree and herbs, such as oregano.
“Everything that you do for the earth is giving praise back to God.” Fr. Tom Bourque, TOR, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Herndon.
Funding for the project came from the school’s PTO spring fling and the parish. The spring fling supports the school’s technological education through iPads, smartboards, video cameras and robotics classes. When Principal Cindi Conroy asked Father Bourque what he wanted the focus of the next fundraiser to be, he didn’t think twice.
“It really comes from Pope Francis’ encyclical, ‘Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,’” said Father Bourque.
“Since (Pope Francis) based the whole encyclical on the canticle of St. Francis, I said, ‘It would really be a celebration for us as a parish, as a school, and for the Franciscans here’ — it’s very much our spirituality,” he said.
For about six years, St. Joseph School has used a STEM curriculum that focuses on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This year, the school expanded from STEM to STREAM, to include religion and the arts. Sara Beltran, director of technology and student activities, said the acronym provides a visual of how the Catholic faith is woven into each subject. The greenhouse will be an opportunity for students to learn about the science of ecology, and how it can relate to other subjects, and to recognize the earth as part of God’s creation.
Classes will use the greenhouse next semester. Each grade will learn a different aspect of vegetation. Middle school students will learn how the greenhouse’s watering and ventilation systems works; first-graders will learn the difference between edible and nonedible foods; and seventh-graders will be able to test the effects of pollution by comparing plants inside and outside the greenhouse.
“Every grade will be planting something and they’ll be in charge of taking the food that we’ve grown and then distributing it,” said Lauren Jennison, junior high science teacher. The food will be distributed to local charities that the parish supports, such as LINK Inc., Cornerstones and Embry Rucker Community Shelter.
In addition, each grade will grow something in the student garden outside of the greenhouse. Second-graders have planted tulips to be used for Masses in May and for Mother’s Day. Wheat will be planted to for making communion wafers.
“(The greenhouse is) important, because it’s caring for God’ creation,” said Jen Applegate, fifth-grade teacher and president of the ecology club. One of the club’s contributions to the greenhouse will be composting the school’s leftover coffee grinds.
The faculty laughed at the idea of students breaking away from the daily routine of typing and texting to get their hands dirty.
Father Bourque hopes the greenhouse will lead students to become “good stewards” of the earth, because, “Everything that you do for the earth is giving praise back to God.”