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Westlake Middle School Puts 'Green' in Greenhouse

THORNWOOD, N.Y. – For students at Westlake Middle School, constructing a fully functional greenhouse on the Thornwood campus made almost entirely of recycled plastic water bottles is a major accomplishment.

But science teacher Adam Yaeger, who coordinated the project, hopes that students take home a much bigger lesson.

“The lesson is, 'How can we reduce our carbon footprint,'” Yaeger said. “It’s not only a lifestyle change, it’s a different way of thinking about the world that we live in.”

Yager stumbled upon the concept of creating a functional greenhouse out of recycled materials while working last summer as a camp counselor. After receiving a $2,000 grant for materials from the Mount Pleasant Education Foundation, he got to work in October with fellow science teachers Steve Pesick and Thomas Hall and their sixth- and seventh-grade students to brainstorm a design.

The students then collected more than 6,000 plastic water bottles. They cleaned and cut them and then lined them along strips of plastic PVC piping. The greenhouse now sits in the back of the middle school’s campus and is big enough to fit a few people inside. Inside, dozens of plants are growing such as tomatoes, corn and string beans, which the students will take home at the end of the school year.

The green initiative doesn’t stop at the greenhouse for the students, who also started a compost pile for soil and a rain collection bin for water. It’s about teaching the benefit of using and reusing materials, Yaeger said.

“You want to teach the kids that before they take something to throw it out, that they say to themselves, ‘OK, I can use this, this and that again’,” he said.

Most of the project was built during school hours, and Yaeger said the most difficult aspect was dealing with Mother Nature. Using the different skills of each student made the complicated construction move smoothly, he said.

“We had students that were great with science so they were able to help with the design and some that were great with their hands and others that weren’t very strong in either, but they contributed in different by maybe using their writing skills to make signs and fliers to let people know about the bottle collections,” Yaeger said. “So each student contributed in their own way.”

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