SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Teachers at South Plainfield High School (SPHS) will soon be able to take their classes outside, offering students the opportunity to learn in a hands-on space. A greenhouse is complete and an outside, sustainable classroom is scheduled to be ready, weather permitting, by spring. 

“Our students are in tune with having a sustainable lifestyle; it is very different from the way we grew up and they are all interested in preserving the planet. Our students make it a point to recycle and have reached out to administration on becoming a green district,said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Noreen Lishak in response to the idea behind the greenhouse. 

Funding for both the greenhouse and the outdoor classroom was provided through district monies along with grants from Investors Bank, New Jersey Sustainable Schools, and New Jersey American Water; Shanti Kantha-Murray, the district’s supervisor of science, along with SPHS teacher and Green Team co-Leader Kathleen Benton worked to secure many of the grants received. 

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The greenhouse is located off the gymnasium with the planned classroom set to be constructed adjacent to it. The area will be fenced in with access from the school building only and there will benches and raised garden beds. Additionally, the site will also include a water collection tank and composting bins. 

“The students today are so much more environmentally conscience compared to how we were,” said Kantha-Murray, noting that several students wrote letters in an effort to help the district secure grant funding. “They have been on board since the beginning and will really be able to see the sustainability aspect of producing your own.”

“We just have this vision of sustainability,” said Benton during a June 2019 South Plainfield Board of Education meeting. “Our students have been so great about putting ideas together and working on ways to improve this in our school.” 

The greenhouse will be available to 9th through 12th grade environmental science, food ecology & nutrition, culinary, and Life Skills students; in addition to enhancing course curricula in the aforementioned classes, the greenhouse will provide Life Skills students the ability to use the items grown as ingredients for many of the homemade products they sell at the high school’s Wild Tiger Café. 

“We wanted to find ways the items grown could be incorporated into our classrooms and beyond. It really stemmed from the wants of our own students who were interested in having a space where they could plant and use the produce and herbs they grow,” said Lishak, adding, “Ideally the students would have the opportunity to use the produce in the culinary classes and eventually in our own district kitchens during our lunch service.

According to the superintendent, the hope is to expand on what the students grow. “Many students and faculty would like to see a high school farm stand selling vegetables and herbs along with baked goods from the culinary classes,” Lishak said. 

The concept behind the outdoor classroom, said Kantha-Murray, was to ‘create an atmosphere for all classes to utilize the space.’  “All classes are welcome; we are hoping art classes will go outside for inspiration or English classes will go outside to read poetry,” she said. 

Additionally, Kantha-Murray noted that there are numerous benefits to an outdoor classroom. “Being outside is proven to lower stress and improve overall health,” she said. “The outdoor classroom will provide students with fresh air and sunlight, an opportunity for them to stretch their legs and for teachers to incorporate kinesthetic learning.”

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