A Minnetonka elementary school has set its sights on building a $550,000 eco-lab to give students hands-on ways to learn and think about the environment.
Claire Deitering, 8, left, Jarod Wandersee, 8, center, Sophie Hollander, 8, right, and their third-grade teacher, Patti Berger, watched their butterfly fly into the sky after it was set free in their butterfly garden at Groveland Elementary. The garden is one way the school already focuses on the environment.
It was the fifth day of school, and three teachers and a custodian at Groveland Elementary gathered in a classroom to discuss a problem: Students were depositing more compostables into organics recycling bins and generating less trash than ever before.
They didn't have enough bins to handle all the organics.
While coming up with a solution -- placing organics recycling bins in every classroom instead of just in the cafeteria and restrooms -- the teachers agreed it was a good problem to have.
The Minnetonka school has been teaching kids to be green for years now.
But perhaps Groveland's biggest "green" showcase yet is an ambitious plan to build a $550,000 "eco-lab" -- a special classroom where students can study the life cycle of butterflies, explore solar energy and grow plants from seeds.
"It's a designated space where students can go and get really jazzed about math and science," said Groveland parent and eco-lab committee chairwoman Heidi Kluzak. "How they're learning in school affects how they live."
The eco-lab committee has spent a year envisioning this hands-on science lab where teachers and students can study the environmental impact of the daily choices they make and methods for a more sustainable lifestyle.
What's needed to turn the blueprints into a reality is $550,000.
The committee is taking on the challenge of raising the money through grants and private donations. Ideally, the eco-lab will be a community project, Kluzak said, and the committee hopes community partners and sponsors will step forward. If so, the eco-lab could be completed by the end of 2009.
"It's ambitious, but we already have great support," said Groveland Principal David Parker.
A green place to learn
Between racing solar-powered cars in Brent Frank's fifth-grade class, releasing butterflies into a native butterfly garden in Patti Berger's third-grade class and sorting recyclables in Niki Danou's second-grade Spanish immersion class, Groveland is already pretty green.
If the eco-lab is built next summer, indoor recess will never be the same.
The plans call for a stationary bike area where, just by pedaling, students can generate electricity to power a computer monitor or other small appliances. Parents and teachers hope hands-on lessons like this will propel Groveland students to the top of the class.
"When compared to other countries, we're falling behind in math and science," Kluzak said. "You have to wire those brains from the beginning. There's no better way to teach and no better way to learn than to actually touch, feel, experience and manipulate."
Once the eco-lab is completed, for math class, students will be able to calculate the energy they used versus the energy generated by micro wind turbines and solar panels on the roof.
So far, ideas for the eco-lab have been endless. And the students are contributing to the list.
One fifth-grader suggested installing contraptions in the sink drains to generate power from the downward movement of water through the drain. The school already has low-flow toilets and waterless urinals, and in the past three years, Groveland has recycled nine tons of organic matter.
If they build it ...
The eco-lab would be constructed in an unused area outside of the principal's office, facing the south entrance of the school for maximum sun exposure. The 1,200-square-foot lab, a little bigger than the average classroom, would include a weather station, a green roof and ample space for ongoing science projects.
And that's just the beginning. The committee envisions a second phase, not only for the eco-lab but for the rest of the school's grounds. Priority parking for alternative-fuel vehicles, bike racks, showers for teachers who bike to work, rain gardens and sun dials are a few of the ideas for phase two.
Schools nationwide are increasingly looking for ways to go green. The recently built Watertown-Mayer Elementary School, for example, is one of the most ecologically friendly schools in Minnesota, according to the architects, who are trying to get it certified as a model of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) by the U.S. Green Building Council.
Members of the eco-lab committee hope Groveland can become a model for growing districts that don't have the option of building a whole new school. Groveland is more than 150 years old; its current building was constructed in 1955, and since then, there have been additions and other remodeling.
"We don't have the advantage of being a LEED-certified building," Parker said. "So we're doing everything we possibly can to create a green culture for kids."
Aimée Blanchette • 612-673-1715