Boys and girls at Hyalite School eagerly grabbed Popsicle sticks and play dough this week to build models of a greenhouse for their school, the start of a project designed to teach kids about both engineering and healthy food.
“We have a problem!” announced fifth-grader Rowan Lunceford, as he struggled to get his sticks to lock together. After a minute, he'd figured it out, just like a real engineer.
“Problem solved,” he declared.
Rowan — a self-described “engineering geek” — “I like anything you can build” — is one of about 50 kids in Hyalite School's after-school STEM Club. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math, the fields in which President Barack Obama and education and industry leaders say America needs to train more students.
A half-dozen engineers from McKinstry, a construction design, engineering and energy company with an office in Bozeman, volunteered Thursday to help students tackle the greenhouse design.
The goal is to actually begin building the greenhouse next spring on school grounds, said Karen Hedglin, a McKinstry senior project manager.
Once there's a design, the students will learn how the company estimates costs, like the cost of a slab of cement. In the spring, students will learn how engineers evaluate how much water, heat and light the greenhouse will use, and how energy use can be offset, she said.
“This is what we do on our own projects,” Hedglin said. “Our goal is to demonstrate how it works … how we use STEM every day.”
Erin Jackson, a volunteer with FoodCorps, part of AmeriCorps, said Hyalite School already has seven raised garden beds. Last year kids raised 20 different vegetables, from broccoli to tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and cabbage.
Students get hands-on experience harvesting the vegetables, preparing and eating them in class, which are great ways to learn about healthy foods. The gardens also provide food that low-income students in the Kids Pack program can take home over weekends. Some 45 percent of the school's students qualify for reduced price or free lunches.
Yet Montana's growing season is so short, Jackson said. Having a greenhouse would allow growing more food and extend the growing season a couple of months into the school year.
Building the greenhouse will cost an estimated $10,000 to $12,000, Hedglin said. The McKinstry Charitable Foundation has pledged $2,000 to start the fundraising.
One of Bozeman's two new elementary schools, Hyalite, at 3600 W. Babcock St., opened four years ago. Principal Mike Van Vuren said in a news release it's great to see the excitement among both engineers and students.
Elizabeth Christofferson, a fourth-grader, said she likes the STEM Club.
“I like how we get to use our imaginations and teamwork,” she said.
Claire Whittle, also a fourth-grader, said the greenhouse project is fun.
“It makes me feel like I'm doing a big part in finishing our school,” she said.
Gail Schontzler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 582-2633.