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The Greeley Voice

The Greeley Voice

Growing Together: Greeley’s Sustainability Research Center Fellowship

Erin Song
The soil chamber of the greenhouse

The aromas of mint and basil waft through the window. Vines swollen with ripe cucamelons stripe the walls. Fish splash in lilypad-spotted tanks. Some students scribble down notes in the lab next to the building, preparing to present their knowledge of plant biology to younger students. Others tend to newly sprouted batches of courgettes and pinto beans, careful to not disturb the delicate, baby tendrils. Beams of sunlight flash and reflect across glass panes, warming and reflecting the very spirit of the greenhouse. It’s a plant paradise. Welcome to the Greeley Sustainability Research Center (SRC), maintained by the student organization, the SRC Fellowship.

The Greeley Sustainability Research Center (SRC)
While rummaging through the school’s storage rooms four years ago, engineering teacher Mr. Debellis noticed that a group of his students had self-initiated a fully-functional aquaponics system in a small, back room closet. Shocked but pleasantly surprised, a proposal to establish one of Greeley’s most modern buildings would rapidly be configured. It was apparent that there was a high level of interest in environmental science that could be furthered by school facilities, so in 2022, the Greeley SRC came into fruition.


The hydroponics chamber of the greenhouse (Erin Song)

The research center is composed of three rooms: the Headhouse, which harbors important planting supplies; the classroom, used for classes such as AP Environmental Science as well as a location for community initiatives; and the greenhouse, which is composed of two automated chambers that continuously regulate their internal environments to maintain optimal conditions for plants. The SRC is generally supervised by senior Greenhouse Manager, Kaitlyn Hare, while the two greenhouse chambers are individually maintained by other members of the Fellowship. One chamber, a habitat for soil plants, is overseen by senior Soil Specialist Violet Christensen, while the other, a hydroponics house, is overseen by junior Head of Hydroponics Jenna Rosenberg. The greenhouse provides a “tremendous opportunity to develop our new 9th Grade elective courses to address the jobs of the future, which are often rooted in Sustainability and Engineering,” says Justin Olive, the SRC advisor. “It’s undoubtedly a 21st century space to engage in 21st century education.”

Vertical hydroponics system (Erin Song)

Indeed, “Teachers can incorporate the space into their lessons,” reflects junior Jenna Rosenberg, the SRC Fellowship’s Head of Hydroponics. “I think it has the potential to become a big part of our school community.”


The SRC Fellowship
Mr. Olive’s vision hit the mark – SRC is already integrated in the Greeley community, and it starts with the student organization, the SRC Fellowship. This organization is a small group of Greeley students who seek to spread awareness about the SRC and environmental science as a whole. They are vital to sustaining the teeming life within the Greenhouse: this small, but extremely knowledgeable and dedicated group consistently contributes time and energy in maintaining the entire SRC. Their efforts are rewarded with gratifying memories. For example, Rosenberg commented, “My favorite experience [being a part of the Fellowship] was when we had some of the middle school classes come in, and I got to teach them about the hydroponics and aquaponics systems,”.

Moreover, sustainable education is a top priority of the SRC. Last year, the fellowship traveled to an elementary school in the district to spark interest in plant biology to younger students. It was “awesome to see how excited the younger students were when some of the juniors and seniors were teaching them the ins-and-outs of plant bio,” muses Mr. Olive. Additionally, the fellowship has partnered with a non-profit organization centered in NYC, called NYSunworks, to plan community events where students can present projects they’ve been working on or share sustainability-centered ideas they’ve developed. Earlier this year, the fellowship presented the idea of creating an official “Chappaqua Sustainability Student Ambassador” role to develop lesson plans for younger students about hydroponics and aquaponics systems in conjunction with administration.

Fortunately, it’s not only students who have benefited from the SRC, but also teachers, who testify to how much they have learned from the center as well. Before becoming an advisor to the Fellows, Mr. Olive was not as knowledgeable in agricultural science and plant biology as he is now. “I have learned an immense amount over the past year by just planting new things, setting goals for fun events and then working backwards to plan the crops we need to plant, and more,” Mr. Olive shares. Ironically, his favorite memories of the greenhouse have stemmed from catastrophic problems in the greenhouse, and finding solutions to them. For instance, there was an infestation of aphid pests in the greenhouse last spring—an “amazing learning experience,” says Mr. Olive—where the Fellowship had to figure out the optimal biological pest control to lower the pest population.

A Community Garden
Not only has the SRC enriched Greeley’s curriculums, but the Fellowship has also been actively engaged with the wider school experience by contributing to student life events. “On the second day of school, we planted marigolds to give to the OLAS [Organization of Latin American Students] club for Dia de los Muertos,” Rosenberg says. Last year, the Fellowship also celebrated Mother’s Day with plants, and there are plans to do the same for the upcoming Valentine’s Day.

Marigolds caretaker sheet (Erin Song)

The next time you pass by the SRC on your way to K Building, come stop by and visit the greenhouse! Enjoy the beautiful gardens of marigolds, lilies, and basil, and say hi to the fish. You’re even welcome to try a cucamelon yourself.


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About the Contributor
Erin Song
Erin Song, Director - SciTech
Erin is a senior, and so excited to shed spotlight on Science and Technology this year! Previously, she was a Student Life Section Editor and Social Media Manager for The Greeley Tribune. Outside of The Greeley Voice, Erin is involved with the Asian American Pacific Islander Association (AAPIA), the Science Olympiad Team, and the Sustainability Research Center Fellowship. She hopes to pursue health sciences in the future, investigating social equity in healthcare. In her free time, Erin enjoys birdwatching, gardening, and spending time with her family.

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