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posted: 11/9/2013 8:00 AM

Green club at Jacobs H.S. reaping what it sows

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  • Terry Stroh, head of the science department at Jacobs High School, works with students in the newly renovated greenhouse on the high school's roof. Stroh and the club cleaned the old greenhouse that the school used for storage.

       Terry Stroh, head of the science department at Jacobs High School, works with students in the newly renovated greenhouse on the high school's roof. Stroh and the club cleaned the old greenhouse that the school used for storage.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Gabi Navarro, a Jacobs High School student who graduated in the spring, painted this mural inside the greenhouse that was previously used for storage. Navarro was part of the school's Green Eagles environmental club, which took on the greenhouse's renovation in the spring.

       Gabi Navarro, a Jacobs High School student who graduated in the spring, painted this mural inside the greenhouse that was previously used for storage. Navarro was part of the school's Green Eagles environmental club, which took on the greenhouse's renovation in the spring.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Containers on the roof of the recently renovated greenhouse at Jacobs High School collect rainwater used to water the plants within a hydroponic system. There's about $1,400 left over from a $5,000 grant the Green Eagles club received to do the renovations. It will use that money for additional greenhouse equipment.

       Containers on the roof of the recently renovated greenhouse at Jacobs High School collect rainwater used to water the plants within a hydroponic system. There's about $1,400 left over from a $5,000 grant the Green Eagles club received to do the renovations. It will use that money for additional greenhouse equipment.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Red peppers are growing inside the newly renovated greenhouse at Jacobs High School on the school's roof. The project was done by the school's Green Eagles club. The greenhouse now grows food for a local food pantry, is open for tours and will figure prominently in future curriculum designed to maximize its use.

       Red peppers are growing inside the newly renovated greenhouse at Jacobs High School on the school's roof. The project was done by the school's Green Eagles club. The greenhouse now grows food for a local food pantry, is open for tours and will figure prominently in future curriculum designed to maximize its use.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Romaine and butter crunch lettuce are among the plants the Green Eagles club at Jacobs High School grows inside its recently renovated greenhouse on the school's roof.

       Romaine and butter crunch lettuce are among the plants the Green Eagles club at Jacobs High School grows inside its recently renovated greenhouse on the school's roof.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 

For decades, a greenhouse atop Jacobs High School was a dumping ground for embalmed cats, old television sets and broken equipment. But thanks to a school club, it's meeting its intended uses of growing plants and enhancing the school's curriculum.

What's more, the Green Eagles environmental club that renovated the greenhouse pays it forward by growing fruit and vegetable seedlings for the Algonquin Lake in the Hills Interfaith Food Pantry, which does not have a heated greenhouse. The food pantry, in turn, grows the seedlings in its two gardens until they ripen into food they give to the needy.

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"Other people are going through tough times, so it's to help them out," said Sara Elliott, a Jacobs junior who belongs to the club.

All of this was possible from a $5,000 grant the Green Eagles secured from the District 300 Foundation. Green Eagles is a play on Golden Eagles, the Algonquin school's nickname.

The greenhouse dates back to 1975 and was used as such through the early 1980s, officials said.

But due to its poor design, lack of upkeep, outdated ventilation system that sometimes registered 120-degree temperatures, and subsequent walls that closed it off, the greenhouse fell into disrepair and became a catchall for all of the things people didn't want, school leaders said.

"If nobody knew what to do with it, it got dumped right here," said Terry Stroh, head of the school's science department.

The grant helped the 35-member club install a new ventilation system, repaint the greenhouse's interior, buy work tables and hang metallic curtains under the roof that let light in and kept temperatures comfortable. The club spent four days during the 2013 spring break cleaning, repainting and sprucing it up.

Before the renovation was complete, the club planted about 1,000 seedlings from the food pantry that included lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, beans, melons and potatoes. The plantings started in early March to get the seedlings "nice and big" for the food pantry in time to plant in May, Stroh said.

A May planting, he explained, would help the plants produce as many fruits and vegetables as possible for the pantry.

The greenhouse plants are situated in hydroponic setups, which means the plants are put into pots with clay pebbles -- rather than soil -- and placed into pods, where they receive nourishment from rainwater and liquid nutrients that recycle throughout the system.

Between its two gardens, the food pantry has donated 5,272 pounds of food this year to the needy, in part because of the Jacobs students, said Laurie Selpien, who runs the pantry's vegetable gardens.

"Fresh produce coming into a food pantry is a rarity. You don't see that very often, and we provide fresh produce for as long as possible," Selpien said. "We have people trying foods they've never eaten before."

Now, the club is working on its second batch of fruits and veggies for the food pantry.

The club's sponsors are also eager to share the greenhouse with the region and have opened it for tours.

Other classes are using it now to grow plants for their own use.

Officials want more of that in the future and hope to show the community how to grow their own fruits and vegetables at home and design a curriculum that involves the greenhouse.

If anything, the greenhouse project has already shown students how to give back to their community.

"I've always wanted to do it," Sara Elliott said. "But I didn't know how."

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