The Other 60 Percent

Domes sprouting on Colorado campuses

Schools across the state are investing in domed greenhouses as a way to transform gardening into a year-round learning activity for students and to supply school lunchrooms with homegrown fresh produce regardless of the season outside.

Students from Crest Academy in Salida examine plants growing in the domed greenhouse a block from their school.

Students and parents at Flagstaff Academy, a public charter school in Longmont, last month completed building an 850-square-foot domed greenhouse, a project three years in the making.

In Colorado Springs District 11, officials have partnered with Pikes Peak Urban Gardens to build an even larger greenhouse at Galileo School of Math and Science on the school’s old tennis courts. Funded through a federal Magnet Schools of America grant, construction on the $50,000 dome will begin within the month and should be complete by the time classes resume.

“There’s definitely a lot of interest in school greenhouses now,” said Allen Werthan, founder and executive director of Global Children’s Gardens, an Evergreen-based non-profit that over the past few years has helped seven Colorado schools install greenhouse domes, including the one at Flagstaff Academy.

“There’s just more awareness that healthy eating is significant for kids,” he said.

Werthan recently partnered with TV chef Jamie Oliver to build a dome in Arizona for Navajo youth.

“They’re fighting challenges there of a fast food-only diet and no fresh vegetables, and rampant obesity and diabetes. The dream of the tribal elders was to connect kids back to their traditional diet,” he said.

In Colorado, Global Children’s Gardens helped the Southern Ute Academy in Ignacio built a 22-foot domed greenhouse in 2006 for similar reasons.

“At the Ute Academy, their motivation is to fight the twin plagues of diabetes and obesity,” Werthan said, as well as to preserve the wisdom of tribal elders in the area of traditional medicinal plants.

“Four years of Sundays” to build a greenhouse

Werthan, who ran a mountain school for children and a natural foods restaurant in Evergreen for many years before starting Global Children’s Gardens in 2003, has always had a passion for connecting children with the natural world.

Growing Spaces, a Pagosa Springs company, offers domed greenhouses in different sizes.

He says he spent “four years of Sundays” building his first greenhouse, only to watch it collapse under 4 feet of snow one winter.

“That led to the search for a greenhouse suitable for global distribution, regardless of climate,” he said.

He found it at Growing Spaces, a Pagosa Springs company that sells domed greenhouses in sizes ranging from small 150-square-foot structures to domes covering more than 2,000 square feet. Solar-powered, the domes stay warm throughout winter, even though they’re off the electrical grid.

Launched in 1989 as an offshoot of John Denver’s Windstar Foundation, Growing Spaces has sold domes to 80 schools around the country, including 18 in Colorado. The company has seen phenomenal growth in recent years, said CEO Puja Dhyan Parsons.

“We grew from a company of four to a company of 23, and most of that growth has been in the last five years,” she said. “2008 was our biggest year until this one. It’s just been steady growth because of all the interest in sustainability.”

“Schools are interested in our Growing Domes because they’re really designed and built for the Rocky Mountains,” she added. “We feel we’ve mastered the climate here, the snowload. And sometimes schools want to put a dome in the South 40. It can be remote and not even tied into the main water system, and still be sustainable.”

Schools who partner with Global Children’s Gardens get assistance from Werthan in figuring out how to fund and build a dome from Growing Spaces. Prices start at $5,000 for materials for a do-it-yourself 15-foot-diameter dome.

“I can speak to PTAs, guide them through the process. I can share from my experience what they can create, I can offer help with siting, with budgeting, with fund-raising suggestions,” Werthan said.

Erecting a dome “like an old-fashioned barn-raising”

That’s by no means the only way to get a dome. Domes can be purchased direct from manufacturers, and professional crews can be hired to install it. Growing Spaces will supply a crew to build its largest domes because they’re so tall. But Werthan prefers the community-built to the professionally-built dome.

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“It’s like an old-fashioned barn-raising,” he said. “You have so much sense of ownership when you build it yourself.”

Montessori School of Evergreen built its dome, with GCG’s help, more than seven years ago. It’s proven a blessing time and again, said Beth Heller, the head of school. Initially built for use by middle schoolers at MSE’s Marshdale campus, the school later added a second greenhouse for its younger students on its Troutdale campus.

“Part of Montessori is real-life problem-solving, and our middle schoolers were thinking how they could get money to go to the Teton Science School for a week,” Heller said. “They figured out if they grew herbs, they could make herb vinegar and sell it for a profit. And we thought a greenhouse was something we could integrate throughout our curriculum.”

Now the middle school students take greenhouse and cooking elective classes, using fresh ingredients grown there. At the Troutdale campus, each class from pre-school through third grade has its own plot of land inside the greenhouse. The greenhouse also houses turtles and fish.

“The children love taking care of the animals, and we talk about how a symbiotic system is created, what they need from us and what we need from them,” Heller said.

Domes spreading in school districts across the state

Among the other domed greenhouses sprouting on Colorado campuses recently:

  • Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale built its dome in the spring of 2010 to serve as a hands-on agricultural science classroom for students. The project is a partnership between the school and Fat City Farmers, a sustainable agriculture education program, and the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute in Basalt.
  • Yampah Mountain High School in Carbondale installed a domed greenhouse in 2009.
  • Clear Creek High School in Evergreen installed a domed greenhouse a year ago in partnership with Rotary Club and Beau Jo’s Pizza. The students sell back the herbs they grow in the greenhouse to the restaurant. “It’s a cool model in terms of the funding for it, and the motivation,” said Werthan. “It’s an offshoot of the biology department but with an entrepreneurial component.”
  • GCG owns a greenhouse in Salida that is used by students from nearby Longfellow Elementary, Chaffee County Montessori and Crest Academy. Students there have grown an abundance of fresh vegetables inside the greenhouse and have been very successful in selling their fresh salad green at a local farmer’s market, Werthan said.

Springs dome to be used for science classes

At Galileo School in Colorado Springs, the Growing Space domed greenhouse will be used to grow produce year round and the district’s Food and Nutrition Department will buy all the produce grown for use in the school cafeteria. The funds from the sales of produce will pay for a part-time master gardener to oversee the growing spaces.

In addition, some areas inside the greenhouse will be set aside for students to conduct plant and soil research for science classes, said district spokeswoman Devra Ashby.

Besides the covered dome, the remainder of the tennis courts at Galileo will be converted into raised beds, with gathering areas for school classes. Immediately outside the dome, the school will install a sensory garden and a permaculture garden, she said.

“When the grant was written four years ago to establish Galileo, a greenhouse was included as something they wanted to do as part of the curriculum,” said Jessica Sharp, director of grants for the Colorado Springs district.

“At that time, we couldn’t find the appropriate person to contract with. It’s taken us this long to find something of high enough quality that it was worth the money, and something that didn’t require a lot of construction-related costs.”

Charlie Warren, science director at Flagstaff Academy, a K-8 charter school with a science and technology emphasis, said he expects every child in the school to log some greenhouse time during the coming school year.

“This is a big part of our answering a challenge of how you do outdoor education in a suburban environment,” he said. “This is a big chunk of outdoors where kids can get their hands into the dirt and find out where their food comes from.”

survey says

More bullying reported at New York City schools, study shows

PHOTO: Anthony Lanzilote

More New York City students say there is bullying in their schools, a report released Monday showed. The findings also revealed that many schools reporting the greatest number of violent incidents on campus have no social workers on staff.

The report was commissioned by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Stringer also released an audit of how school safety matters are recorded, and concluded that the education department should provide more oversight and streamline incident reporting rules.

“The audit found clear breakdowns in communication in the reporting and tracking of incidents and actions taken,” according to a press release from Stringer’s office.

The education department disputed some of the comptroller’s findings, and in a written statement, spokeswoman Miranda Barbot wrote: “We have detailed protocols in place to ensure allegations of bullying are immediately reported, investigated and addressed, and are investing in both anti-bullying initiatives and mental health supports.”

But the pair of reports raises scrutiny of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s school discipline reforms, which favor  “restorative” practices that emphasize mediation over punishment, and make it harder to suspend students.

Advocates of the de Blasio reforms say the shift is necessary because black and Hispanic students are more likely to be arrested or disciplined at school. Research has shown such disciplinary action can lead to higher dropout rates. Critics of the reforms, meanwhile, say the changes have created more chaotic schools.

The findings are also likely to add to a chorus of parents and elected officials who say more emotional supports are needed for the city’s most vulnerable students. Students who experience a mental health crisis during the school day may be handcuffed and shuttled to hospitals. The city’s latest budget, which was approved last week, includes an additional $2 million to hire social workers and guidance counselors in schools that currently don’t have any.

Here are some highlights from the reports.

More students report there is bullying in their schools — but the data comes with a catch.

Last year, the education department’s annual survey showed that 82 percent of students said their peers “harass, bully, or intimidate others in school.” That’s up year over year, and up significantly from 65 percent of students in 2012, which was the lowest rate recorded since at least 2010. (De Blasio’s discipline reforms started to take effect around 2015.)

A note about these numbers: Prior to 2017, the survey asked whether students harass, bully or intimidate other students none, some, most, or all of the time. The most recent survey responses were slightly different: none of the time, rarely, some of the time, or most of the time — a change that may have artificially inflated the bullying numbers.

That’s enough to render the survey data unreliable said Max Eden, a researcher who has studied school climate for the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute — a critic of the mayor’s discipline reforms. Still, taken with other findings, it’s reasonable to think that bullying is on the rise at city schools, he said.

Among the other evidence: A first-of-its-kind report, released this month under a new city law, that showed substantiated bullying incidents are on track to increase this year.

Schools that log the most violent incidents often lack mental health supports.

Guidance counselors and social workers are key when it comes to creating safe schools because they can help address the root cause of violent or troublesome behavior, advocates who want more mental health supports say.

But many of the city’s neediest schools go without that help.

Of the schools reporting the most violent incidents on campus, 36 percent lack a full-time social worker, the comptroller found. On campuses where there are social workers, caseloads are a staggering 700 to one. That far exceeds the recommended ratio from the National Association of Social Workers of 250 general education students per social worker — and it’s higher than the citywide average of 612 students per social worker, according to the comptroller.

The comptroller’ compares that to the ratio of New York Police Department school safety agents who are placed in schools: There is one safety agent per 228 students, according to the report.

“Our city is failing to meet the social and emotional needs of our students,” Councilman Mark Treyger, of Brooklyn, who has pushed the city to report more up-to-date bullying data and to hire more school counselors, said in an emailed statement.

Schools may be underreporting violent incidents, something the education department disputes.

In a separate audit, the comptroller compared logs kept by school safety agents to incident reports filed by school leaders. In 21 percent of cases, incidents that were noted by safety agents were not reflected in the school reports.

The school data, in turn, are used to report incidents to the state for its Violent and Disruptive Incident Report, or VADIR. The discrepancy could raise questions about the already-controversial reporting system. (VADIR has been criticized for classifying schoolyard incidents as serious offenses, and the state has tweaked its definitions in response to those kinds of concerns.)

This finding also comes with some caveats. The comptroller looked at only 10 schools — a tiny sample of the city’s portfolio of about 1,800. And the education department took issue with the methodology.

In its response to the audit, education department officials said that the police data doesn’t align with the state’s reporting categories, and that the information may not be comparable because of student privacy concerns and recordkeeping issues on campuses where multiple schools share a building.  

Student Voices

What would these students tell newly trained teachers? ‘Be woke’

PHOTO: Rebecca Griesbach
Freedom Prep student Destiny Dangerfield talks alongside Asiah Hayes, Detario Yancey, and Evan Walsh at a panel discussion for TFA Memphis trainees.

Respect for others, being resourceful, and confronting biases are among the lessons four high-school-age students wanted to convey during a panel discussion for future Teach for America participants.

Teach for America Memphis trains recent college graduates and places them in local classrooms for two years, with the goal of developing leaders who will commit to educational equity. Earlier this month, TFA Memphis kicked off its Summer Institute, welcoming 153 new trainees. Created in 2006, the group now has over 400 alumni working in local schools. 

High-schoolers Asiah Irby, Evan Walsh, Destiny Dangerfield, and Detario Yancey shared their personal stories with about 200 corps members, directors, and alumni last week. When these students enrolled in Freedom Preparatory Academy and KIPP Memphis Collegiate Schools, it marked a turning point for them. Both schools are charters that hire many program grads.

“We wanted kids that embody so much of what we hope for for all of our students,” said Athena Palmer, executive director of TFA Memphis. “What were the key moments along the way” in their educations?

Based on interviews and the panel discussion, here’s what the students thought first-time teachers should know:

Tell us you won’t tolerate bullying. And mean it.

Destiny Dangerfield wants to be a federal prosecutor, or a civil rights attorney, or perhaps a performer one day. These are lofty goals for any student, but they once seemed unreachable for Dangerfield. Her father, a musician, packed his bags before she started middle school.

“That took a really huge toll on me because that was when I was starting to be introduced to a whole lot more boys,” she said. “Having him walk out on me did a number on my self-worth and self-image and I saw myself as little to nothing.”

School for Dangerfield was supposed to be a safe haven. But that wasn’t always the case. Sometimes, she said, an act as simple as momentarily stepping out of the classroom could affect a student’s safety.

“In reality, that two minutes could be the difference between a child getting in a fight or being talked about or ganged up on,” she said. “Be articulate that you won’t tolerate bullying of any kind. And show them that that’s not an empty threat and that you mean business.”

A safe community of friends and classmates helped Dangerfield get through school. Now, she wants her circle to learn to use their voices to make change, even though she feels people like her are misunderstood and often neglected.

“I want to see more investments within our city.…” she said. “I feel like Memphis has so much to offer … no one has the chance to see our potential.”

The classroom is where teachers can start to grow that potential. But one of her teachers didn’t, and that sticks with her today.

“I don’t want to be talked to like I’m 2 years old when I’m 17,” she said. “I will respect you no matter what, but I want to feel respected in the process.”

Open up. Everyone is nervous on the first day, including us.

In ninth grade, Evan Walsh listened while a faculty member told his parents, “He’s not up to the academic rigor of this school.” The meeting lasted five minutes, and he left unenrolled.

“When a student is in an environment where they feel like the people around them couldn’t care less about their education or what they do in life or what happens to them, you get the unfortunate situation that a lot of students are in right now,” he said, referring to two of his former classmates who lost their lives to violence in the city.

For Walsh, who spent his life moving from place to place, first times were frequent. Creating a bond with students in awkward moments can create lasting relationships, he said.

PHOTO: Rebecca Griesbach
Corps members talk to and hug participants Evan Walsh and Detario Yancey after the discussion.

“Don’t be scared,” he said. “We’re all human. We can all be scared. Understand like, we’re just as nervous as you are, especially on the first day.”

With the help of a former assistant principal who had a son in the school, Walsh found his way to KIPP, where his GPA shot from a 2.5 to a 3.6. In May, Walsh graduated summa cum laude, and he was the first from his school to apply for early decision and be accepted into the college of his dreams: Franklin and Marshall in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Still, he thinks of his two classmates and their dreams deferred.

“I’m a strong believer in thinking that violence and poverty is a cycle, and the way to break through some of it is with education,” he said. “I was lucky enough to have family and people around me that recognized the value of education.”

Expect only the most out of us – we’re smarter than you think.

In the rocky years that followed first grade, Asiah Irby found herself caught in a custody battle. Because her mother took care of her, she now wants to return the favor.

“‘That kind of shaped me into the person I am today,” she said. “Even when I’m at my lowest, I still push myself to do my best and be better. I just want what’s best for me and my family.”

When Irby thinks of excellence, she thinks of a poster that was on her English teacher’s wall: “I won’t insult your intelligence by giving you easy work.”

PHOTO: Rebecca Griesbach
Incoming corps members clap for students during panel discussion.

“Coming into a classroom seeing stuff like that just made me know that he cared and that being in his class, I was safe to just learn and try and fail and succeed,” she said.

But she hasn’t always been so lucky. Irby’s worst experience was when she switched teachers in the middle of the year, leaving her with an F grade in the class. Her new teacher didn’t have high expectations for her.

“He was white and kind of privileged, and he would make comments in class that were kind of racist and sexist,” she said. “I want to be something in life, and I don’t want anybody to tell me that I can’t be anything.”

Irby is now a rising senior at Freedom Preparatory Academy, where she raised her ACT score from a 23 to a 27 in one year, enough to get into highly ranked schools such as Syracuse and the University of Texas. And Irby won’t settle for anything less. Success for Irby means leaving a path that students like her younger sister can follow.

“I want to do what I can to make sure that she does better than I do,” Irby said. “My dream for Memphis is for kids that look like me to get experiences that kids who don’t look like me get.”

Teaching is about developing your ‘mommy instinct.’

At home, Detario Yancey’s parents gave him a stable life. But at his failing elementary school, resources were scant, and Yancey’s grades suffered.

“I felt like I was behind,” he said. “I felt like I had a lot of potential locked up in a door, but somebody had to unlock it.”

Yancey enrolled at KIPP in the fifth grade, eating his lunch during tutoring as he worked to recover his grades. Being a teacher in a school this rigorous requires a kind of finesse and quick wit – almost like a “mommy instinct,” he said.

“You want to make your children feel as safe as possible,” he said. “They may not have that love at home. They may not be feeling that love from their peers. Find a creative way to make them feel loved and safe.”

Now, the recent graduate prides himself on representing his class as president and valedictorian.

“I want to see underprivileged kids like me surpass expectations,” he said. “The system is in place for us to fail. I want to see us live to beat those systems down.”

In the weeks ahead, TFA’s incoming corps members will teach summer school at Memphis Business Academy before receiving their assignments for the new school year.

Yancey left them with one last bit of advice: “Be creative, be intuitive, be socially intelligent – and be woke.”