The greening of Atchison

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by Erin Hunninghake

ATCHISON — Walk into Todd Miller’s Biology II classes at Maur Hill-Mount Academy (MH-MA), and you will find more than just students memorizing textbooks and listening to lectures.

Instead, you will find them writing grant proposals, planning fundraisers, and getting elbow deep in soil from their own garden. All of this is part of the classes’ efforts to raise funds for their own on-campus greenhouse, which they will use for hands-on learning and community involvement.

The idea for a greenhouse started with two raised garden beds that Miller’s biology classes planted on campus two years ago.

“The Sisters at the Mount approached us about doing something to honor Wangari Maathai, who was a ‘64 grad of Mount St. Scholastica College,” Miller said. “She had just passed away about a year prior, so we thought it would be nice to do something in her name.”

The Sisters provided Miller’s biology classes with the materials for two raised garden beds. The students got to work on cultivating their gardens and used the vegetables they grew to supplement the salad bar in the school’s cafeteria.

Seeing the students’ initiative with the Wangari Garden got Miller’s mind brewing with bigger and better ideas.

“I went to a seminar on grant writing that really got me thinking,” he said. “They asked us, ‘In your wildest dreams, what would you like in your department?’”

“I thought a greenhouse would sure be nice. I ran it by Monika [King, H-MA principal], and she thought it was a great idea and told me to go for it.”

Miller presented the idea to his biology classes, and they immediately began working on a grant proposal.

Miller said his class dedicated a significant amount of time towards putting the grant proposal together. They even had a professional grant writer review the finished product, who then gave them feedback on how to fine-tune it.

According to Miller, his classes had several goals for the first semester: write a grant proposal, find a site on campus for the actual structure, select a greenhouse manufacturer, put a video proposal together and present it to the administration.

Once these targets were hit, they were ready to seek out various sources of funding. Using the divide and conquer method, the students broke into five different committees — fundraising, Earth Day Walk-a-Thon planning, promotion, business contacts, and media.

“The students have shown great initiative and enthusiasm with all of this,” Miller said. “It’s giving them exposure to how the real world works.”

Once the grant was completed, Miller’s group ran it by some trusted allies.

“We wanted to send it to the Sisters since they helped get this whole thing started with the garden beds,” said Miller. “They were happy to know we wanted to take it to the next level.”

Miller’s classes sent the Sisters a copy of their final proposal, which piqued the interest of the Wangari committee. The two groups met right before Christmas break to brainstorm ideas of where to go next with the proposal.

With some savvy suggestions from the Sisters, the students were ready to pitch their proposal of an educational greenhouse, which Miller said has a two-fold purpose: Project Based Learning and community involvement.

“We wanted to take Project Based Learning to another level in our life science department,” said Miller. “This helps with creativity, taking initiative, designing and implementing a plan”

The second half of the greenhouse goal, community involvement, has always been a focus at MH-MA. The classes plan to donate vegetables grown in the greenhouse to local places in town that could benefit from the produce, like Project Concern, The Salvation Army, the Atchison Farmer’s Market, and others.

To complete the project, Miller said they will need to raise between $60,000 to $80,000. Several companies have already expressed interest in helping fund the project, including some local businesses in Atchison.

Individuals are also stepping up to help, with more than $7,000 verbally committed from different sources.

Miller’s classes will also team up with Live Well Atchison to host an Earth Day Walk-a-Thon on April 23 in efforts to complete their fundraising goals. The Walk-a-Thon will include lawn- and garden-themed raffle items donated by local businesses, including Blish-Mize, MGP Ingredients, The Hardware Store, and Orscheln.

All are welcome and encouraged to participate in the Walk-a-Thon on April 23 from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., starting and ending on MH-MA’s campus. The cost is $12 per person and includes a tee-shirt and bottle of water. All funds will go towards the educational greenhouse.

If all goes well with fundraising, Miller said they are hoping to start building the greenhouse this summer.

“I really think that both our students and the community will benefit from this,” he said.

To donate to MH-MA’s Wangari Greenhouse, go to their GoFundMe page at: www.gofundme.com/q8tzektg, or by contacting Todd Miller at tmiller@mh-ma.com or at 913-426-1353.

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