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York College Education majors to play role in elementary school’s greenhouse project

Education students partner with Goode Elementary school to build greenhouse.
The greenhouse is located at Goode Elementary School in York.

Inside a large greenhouse at the center of their elementary school, a teacher leads a group of students through an assignment: grow a plant and use whatever they can to help the plant survive.

The students come back every day, measuring everything from temperature to the amount of water they use, and chart their plants as they grow.

Right now, that scenario is a vision in Dr. Nicole Hesson’s mind, but this fall, a project at the Alexander D. Goode Elementary School in York, with help from York College of Pennsylvania, could make that dream become a reality.

“This isn’t something very common,” says Dr. Hesson, Assistant Professor of Education at York College. “A lot of schools just don’t have the space to do something like this. The Goode School is very unique.”

Year-round learning

The greenhouse at the Goode School got started in 2016, when York College’s Engineering Department looked for a community project to serve as a capstone to the course.

But the goal of the project wasn’t just to build something and leave it. They wanted to create a lasting partnership.

That’s where Dr. Hesson and the Education Department came in. Dr. Hesson teaches a class centered around how to teach elementary school science, and, once built, the students in that class will help teachers at the Goode School develop a book of lessons that help utilize the space.

Students already use a garden at the school that’s cultivated by volunteers from Temple Beth Israel in York Township, but the greenhouse will help bolster learning year-round.

“The garden can only do so much because of the weather,” Dr. Hesson says. “Once the greenhouse is operational, they can teach lessons inside all year.”

Inspiring critical thinking

Before coming to York College of Pennsylvania, Dr. Hesson taught science at every grade level from 6th through 12th in Baltimore, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., and saw firsthand what it takes to get students to learn.

Unlike other subjects where students learn best from a textbook, science requires hands-on experiments and to explore on their own.

“Over the years, you did labs where everyone was supposed to get the same result, but that’s not how real scientists get results,” Dr. Hesson says. “You’re not increasing curiosity with that. But, if you give kids materials and ask them to achieve a goal, that’s where they learn those skills.”

The greenhouse at the Goode School would allow students to do just that, achieving Dr. Hesson’s ultimate goal of increasing the use of hands-on science in schools.

“It doesn’t matter what the kids do, even if they do something crazy like watering a plant with apple juice,” Dr. Hesson says. “They’re going to get a result, and we want them to interpret that result and think critically about what they’re seeing.”