Cunningham Academy Celebrates Opening of New Greenhouse

 In Camelot Blog

Students at Camelot’s Cunningham Academy now have the opportunity to grow plants and vegetables year-round and cultivate healthy habits that will last a lifetime. It’s all thanks to a new greenhouse at the school in Vineland, NJ.

The project is the result of the successful private-public partnership between Camelot Education and the Vineland School District. The district applied for and won a $10,000 grant from Sustainable New Jersey, and Camelot matched the grant with another $10,000 to make the greenhouse a reality.

Dr. Mary Gruccio, Vineland Superintendent of Schools, said the gardening program and greenhouse marks an excellent addition to the Cunningham curriculum for students.

“It gives them self-esteem,” she says. “It makes them feel valued for what they’ve accomplished. It gives them a sense of responsibility, a sense of being able to look at the future and possibly a career they might want.”

Matthew Kass, Camelot’s Regional Administrator, said the whole idea behind this initiative was to take on the theme of farming.

“As an organization, we promote transferrable skills. I think by teaching students the patience that comes with farming, along with the risks and rewards involved, they learn a lot of lessons,” he said.

Students at the dedication said they love working in the greenhouse as well.

“I love being a part of the greenhouse, because I feel like you get a chance to come outside and get your hands dirty,” said 7th-grade student Emma Warfle. “You learn how to put the plants in the soil, water them, fertilize them, do a lot of things to the plants. I do this at home with my mom, because she has a little garden and my pop-pop has a little garden so it’s kind of nice (to do this at school too).”

Added 9th grader Ziani Serrano, “This program helps students on a day-to-day basis with planning, talking to people and school lessons, and it mixes them all together. This is more hands-on, as opposed to sitting in a classroom and taking notes.”

Middle School Math and Science Teacher Barb Degarmo, the coordinator of the greenhouse program, said this real-life experience is the best teacher.

“Science is meant to be hands-on. You can teach them, and they’ll think about it, but to have them actually experience it is so much better, and then the idea actually ‘clicks’ on what’s going on and how it’s happening,” Degarmo said. “This work ties into the whole genetics unit, and then the growth cycle and the production of plants.”

Students will soon begin planting vegetables. Degarmo says as much as the students like growing plants, once they can start eating the product, they’ll enjoy that a whole lot more.

Following the dedication event, the students hosted a community plant sale, where half the money raised is going toward a field trip and the other half will be re-invested to greenhouse projects.

Superintendent Gruccio said the greenhouse project is just the latest endeavor in the very beneficial relationship between Camelot and the school district.

“They came to our district a few years ago and completely turned our program around. We’re thrilled to work with them – they’re always available, we discuss things, they’re just fantastic, and I just can’t say enough about them.”

Watch a video from the event here.

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