DANVILLE — At Northeast Elementary Magnet School, fourth graders filled nylon stockings with soil and grass seed to make eggheads, which resemble Chia pets, and now are charting their creations' "hair" growth.
First graders stuck sweet potatoes with toothpicks, then put the spuds in partially-filled containers of water to make them sprout vines. They will be planted in garden containers next spring.
And kindergartners made peat pots out of recycled newspaper, then planted sweet pea, pole bean and pumpkin seeds.
Those hands-on science experiments and others have been conducted in the school's new greenhouse, which was dedicated on Wednesday.
"It's been so exciting for the kids and our staff," Principal Cheryl McIntire said, adding that the outdoor, interactive classroom is helping to bring science, math, even language arts lessons to life for students. "We're on the road to understanding what it's all about and what we can do out there."
The 18-foot by 24-foot greenhouse was donated to the school, which has a health and wellness focus, through a community effort spearheaded by the Danville Public School Foundation.
Vermilion County-based International Greenhouse Company — which provides greenhouses for educational, institutional, retail and research purposes throughout the world — donated the structure. In exchange, Northeast will develop a K-5 curriculum, which the company can provide other elementary schools that purchase its products.
Other project costs were funded by donations from the 365 Club, the foundation's signature donor initiative; the school district, Northeast, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 538, Lowe's Home Improvement, Provena United Samaritans Medical Center Foundation's HALO Project and Trigard.
Bob Richard, the foundation's executive director, thanked all of the donors for making the greenhouse possible.
"This is what it's all about and why they come forward to support our schools and staff in District 118," Richard said, before fifth graders Delfie Robinson, the student advisory board leader, and Ricky Oakley, cut a big, red ribbon wrapped around the greenhouse.
The greenhouse was assembled over the school's fall break. Students began using it when they returned in mid-October.
Projects run across the curriculum, teachers said. For example, those kindergartners who planted pole bean seeds are learning about plant growth and recycling in science, they're charting growth in math and they're reading "Jack and the Beanstalk" in language arts.
"There are endless applications," McIntire said.
Physical education teacher Beckey Burgoyne said the greenhouse already has been a great tie-in with the school's health and wellness efforts, which started in 2007. In 2010, Northeast became the first elementary school in the United States to earn the Gold National Recognition Award from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which works to combat childhood obesity and empower kids to make healthy lifestyle choices.
"It's one more way we can teach our children lifelong skills to be healthy," said Burgoyne, who is helping to oversee greenhouse projects with fourth-grade teacher Lisa Unzicker, the lead greenhouse teacher. "Children need to know where their food comes from and that they can grow their own food."