“Homegrown” Attitudes in STEM Gardening

What happens when a car dealership partners with a school to reduce their environmental footprint? The front lobby of Suski Chevrolet in Birch Run, Michigan suddenly transforms into a farmer’s market, courtesy of students at Birch Run High School.

Through a student-run greenhouse at Birch Run High School, students harvested and delivered peppers, squash, tomatoes, cabbage and gourds to Suski Chevrolet for to share with the community. Under the leadership of Jan Pollard, a science teacher at Birch Run High School, and support from multiple partners, students learn through a hands-on environmental science curriculum the journey from garden to table.

Birch Run High School participates in the Eco-Green Program, a STEM education partnership between the National Wildlife Federation and General Motors (GM). The Eco-Green program brings together schools with local GM employees, suppliers and dealers to support student-driven sustainability projects and expose students to STEM, science technology, engineering and math careers. Schools in the program receive a renewable grant and foster community awareness of sustainability issues by engaging local GM dealerships and plants. The Suski Chevrolet dealership serves as the GM partner to Birch Run High School.

“It is most important for teens to understand the simplicity of food production. I stress ‘homegrown’ attitudes with knowledge of full production from the fields,” said Pollard. “Our curriculum here at Birch Run applies STEM objectives to real life application. Our “hands-on” approach after the lesson leads to excitement and mastery of the objective.”

Melissa Franklin, the mentor from Suski Chevrolet, could tell how proud the students were from the entire process of planting, caring, harvesting, and then being able to distribute the produce.

The community members can come in and enjoy these vegetables, at no cost that the students have grown throughout the year…We need to be able to have access to community gardens and if students are learning the importance of that in the classroom, then the hope is that they will take that outside of the classroom to their homes.

In a time when American teenagers average about nine hours of entertainment media use a day, teachers like Pollard see the urgency of teaching students in outdoor classrooms. Pollard has a STEM and agriculture background, with a degree in biology and health education. By receiving support from Michigan State University for curriculum and donations to support Birch Run High School’s program, she is able to continue environmental STEM education for her students.

Programs like Eco-Green, encourage students to not only participate, but shape sustainability initiatives for their peers and community. When students are given the opportunity to learn more about STEM education, they eagerly respond. Pollard started a horticulture class in 2010, with more than one in 10 students in the entire school signing up for the class. In addition to horticulture, students in Pollard’s classes have studied alternative energy, physics and biology.

It takes a whole community to make this type of teaching and learning possible. By introducing STEM education in schools, teachers are encouraging healthy choices and new career options for students.

To learn more about the Eco-Green program, please contact DowdJ@nwf.org.

  • Teacher Jan Pollard speaks with Jennifer Dowd, manager of Eco-Green program, outside of the student-run at Birch Run High School. Photo Credit: Amy Werner, NWF