In a sunny room adjoining the biology laboratory at East Valley High School, a six-foot coconut palm tree almost blocks the door.
Tables are covered with spongy-leaved maternity plants, philodendrons spiraling up sticks and seedling tomato, corn and squash plants.
Welcome to the high school’s greenhouse, which four months ago was just a storage room for teachers’ plants.
The greenhouse has exceeded the expectations of science teacher John Swett, who created it as part his research project class.
“This is more than I’ve ever gotten out of kids before,” Swett said, adding that the students “don’t think this is a big deal.”
Heading up the project is senior Steve Miles, 18, who has a garden at home and has always been interested in horticulture. Miles did much of the research, which included traveling to local community colleges to check out other greenhouses. Other students involved are seniors Maggie Anderson and Jamie Jones, both 18.
One of Swett’s goals for the greenhouse project was to include other classes. Shop students built the heavy-duty wood and metal tables that hold the plants and supplies. Marketing students are planning an end-of-the-year plant sale.
Perhaps most important is the work the three seniors have done with special education students. Each day, 10 to 15 students with disabilities work in the greenhouse, learning about horticulture, organization and responsibility.
The science students leave directions for them on a grease board on the wall. One of the tables is built in a horseshoe shape to allow a student in a wheelchair to get closer to the plants while not blocking the narrow pathway.
Swett said working with the special education students has brought together two groups of students that might never have met.
“When they get here and start joking around and stuff, you get to know their personalities,” Jones said.
The students also have brought teachers’ dying plants back to life. When biology teacher Tom Anyan brought the students his philodendrons in the beginning of the semester, the plants were dry and shriveled from too much fertilizer.
“It just fried them,” Miles said.
Now the plants are sprouting light green buds and curling over the sides of their planters.
A plant sale is being planned for the end of May by senior Lynn Diener, 18. She’s working with a marketing class to develop a plan.
Fliers will be sent to other Valley schools with slogans like “We’ve got the shrub for you,” Diener said. She’s planning to ask TV and radio stations and newspapers for help advertising. All the proceeds will buy new supplies for next year’s class.
By second semester of next year, Swett hopes the class will be peer-taught. The students have learned so much more by teaching other students than they ever would have by doing all the work themselves, he said.
“It shows us organizational skills and working with other people, and looking at other peoples’ perspectives,” Miles said.