A touch of color

Story by Lilia Wood, Photos by John Scialdone

In a corner of the Science Hallway, nestled near the engineering classrooms, is a room like none other...

A touch

of color

On a cold day in December, the plants were blooming.  

They overflowed from their pots and beds toward the ground, their green stems and leaves looking like a tangle of angry, green thread.  

With the temperatures dropping below freezing and snow showers on the radar, the plants were nevertheless thriving in the greenhouse in the Science Hallway. 

“It adds another curriculum. It is like having a class within a class. Throughout the year, we filter through and learn,” Mrs. Heather McDermott, A.P. Environmental Science teacher and greenhouse caretaker, said. “The greenhouse adds educational value in terms of curriculum for botanical studies, for research and for analytical real life data.”

McDermott has been in charge of maintaining the greenhouse for about five years.

The greenhouse was built when the new science wing was added to the high school. Before the referendum, there was a different greenhouse that the retired department leader, Mr. Grandon Voorhis, was the caretaker for. When he retired, McDermott took over.

The greenhouse, in S-239, is located next to room S-238 and most students, who do not walk through the upstairs science wing regularly, do not know it exists.

"I want it to be used 
by more teachers. 
Everyone has access to it, 
but I would like 
to give them more of 
a reason to get in there," 
McDermott said. 
"I have been leaving 
the door open 
if anyone 
wants to come in 
and look around." 
Inside the doorway 
grows an inviting 
panoply of verdant 
stems, shoots, leaves, 
and buds. 
For McDermott, 
the greenhouse is 
a labor of love 
that exemplifies 
her belief 
in environmental 

The environmental classes often use the greenhouse. Currently, the college prep environmental classes are planting, maintaining and cultivating different types of seeds.

A few students are also trying to revamp the water system to make it less wasteful by color-coding its parts.

The Environmental Club uses the greenhouse to plant seeds. They sell the sprouts in the spring as a fundraiser.

McDermott allows students to decide which plants to grow and sustain, and the plants do not have to be approved by the school. Responsibilities to sustain the greenhouse are given to students if they show interest.

A few years ago, two students showed curiosity toward a career in water culture, so McDermott taught them the daily routine and they ran the greenhouse for the year. 

They were able to state on their resumes for college that they had maintained a greenhouse.

To maximize the variety in the greenhouse, McDermott tries to keep basic plant life from different biomes, such as the desert and the tropical rain forests. The environmental classes can compare the diverse adaptations each plant has in person, rather than in a textbook.

The succulents, which are desert plants, like cacti and aloe vera, do not need much water, so they are grouped together on one side of the greenhouse.

The tropical rainforest plants are put on the other side because they get watered multiple times a day to mimic the conditions in the rainforest.

The greenhouse also has edible plants.

It hosts stevia, basil and aloe vera. With the new aquaponics program, there will be more eatable plants added.

The plants are rarely replaced because they do not frequently die. McDermott has not bought a plant for the greenhouse in years.

“Over the summer, I come in and I fertilize. It is not often I will go and purchase something for the greenhouse,” McDermott said. “I will take some plants from my house and bring them in to get them going and then split [the plant] to make more.”

The school only spends about $100 annually on the greenhouse.

“I don't want to go out and buy things. I want to reuse,” McDermott said. “If I am walking down the street and I see some really great horsetail, maybe at the county park or something, I will take a little clipping of it and regrow it and then pot it once it has roots.”

A heating system and a water filtration system were installed with the greenhouse when the new science wing was built. Almost all the cycle needs is water.

Other than plants, the greenhouse hosts a turtle.

It also has various insects, including white flies and black flies. The plants can fall victim to infestations like other crops could.

To aid in growth and prevent infestation, McDermott purchases fertilizer and an organic insect repellent, fish oil.

When the fish oil is sprayed on the plants, it suffocates and kills the insects, but no manufactured pesticides or poisonous chemicals are involved.

"I have to do the fish oil on a Friday because you are literally spraying fish oil in the whole room and it stinks. But it kills them and there is no poison in the system."

In the future, McDermott would like to purchase a more efficient watering system and eventually have an elective water culture class built into the school’s curriculum.

Outside of the greenhouse, the environmental classes are also experiencing how to raise trout from eggs, tilapia and chickens throughout this school year.

“We are studying water conservation and the importance of maintaining our local streams and rivers, so they are not polluted and we don't lose our state fish specie, which is brook trout,” McDermott said.

“It is more the environmental not the AP classes that work on this because the constrictions with time."