Teacher Corps member helps Nixa school’s greenhouse flourish

Sometimes a plan comes together so perfectly, you think it must have been meticulously mapped Check closeand executed. Other times, all it takes is one educator and one e-mail. And that’s how several of the Rural Schools Partnership’s key initiatives converged early in the fall 2015 semester at Nixa’s John Thomas School of Discovery (JTSD), a technology-centered elementary building in the Nixa R-II Public School District.

Hannah Ramsey, a senior at Missouri State University and a member of the 2014 class of the Ozarks Teacher Corps, is a teaching apprentice (not a student teacher, but more on that later) to sixth-grade teacher Tracy Harris. Since last spring, the sixth-grade classes of Harris, Chris Holmes and Ryan Mahn have been working to establish a school greenhouse. The setup already includes a greenhouse tent with cinderblock walls, raised beds with tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli, basil and mums, and rain barrels that collect runoff from the building’s roof.

The goal is to establish a farmers market at the school and provide fresh produce to the cafeteria. Educationally, the project is just one example of a school-wide effort to make science a visceral, hands-on experience. In another example, sixth-grade classes make and sell their own lip balms when studying mixtures and solutions.

Funded largely by grants, the greenhouse has been a hit at the school and with students in its first six months, but with winter approaching, sustainability became an issue. That’s where Hannah comes in.

Knowing through her Teacher Corps education that the Rural Schools Partnership has funds available for conservation grants, Ramsey sent an e-mail to RSP coordinator Julie Leeth. Within a week, Leeth had secured a $1,100 grant via the Rural Schools Conservation Fund to help pay for electricity and heating needs.

The grant was presented to Ramsey and the entire JTSD sixth grade, comprised of 69 students, in a ceremony on Sept. 11.

ozark-teacher-corps-sm-11“The fact that Hannah saw this need, considered herself part of the team and took it upon herself to look for funding was awesome,” says JTSD Principal Dr. Jennifer Chastain.

The best part: Ramsey (at right) will be around to see the greenhouse when it hits full stride next spring. Thanks to Missouri State University’s Apprenticeship Academy, a unique partnership between MSU and Nixa schools (as well as districts in Republic and Logan-Rogersville), Ramsey is not technically a “student teacher.” Instead she’s a teaching apprentice, Chastian explains, which is what MSU dubs students during this more intensive teacher-training model that keeps the them in a school year-round.

“We love these teachers-in-residence,” Dr. Chastian says. “They have great ideas and are up to date. We learn from them and they learn from us.”

After the grant presentation, the sixth graders — satisfied that their work would survive the winter — buzzed about potential cookbooks, planned to seed wildflowers in the greenhouse, and showed off a colorful mural composed entirely of recycled plastic lids and caps in a rainbow of colors.

Isn’t it great when a plan comes together?