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Learning science brings public, private schools together at Green House Venture in St. Louis

Learning science brings public, private schools together at Green House Venture in St. Louis

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ST. LOUIS — In the Shaw neighborhood of south St. Louis, where children attend public, private, parochial and charter schools within a few blocks of each other, the Green House Venture brings them together to focus on science and nutrition education.

St. Louis University professor Donald Stump envisioned a plan to address “the problems this particular generation of students is going to have at the height of their productivity,” including a lack of science education, poor nutrition and childhood obesity, he said.

The nonprofit Green House Venture formed in 2015, creating an “urban education alliance” among St. Margaret of Scotland Catholic school, the public magnet Mullanphy Investigative Center, Tower Grove Christian Academy and the charter St. Louis Language Immersion School, which has since moved to midtown.

Five student ambassadors from each school gather weekly to grow plants, test soil and conduct science experiments. Each school has a food computer, which is an enclosed garden connected to a computer that allows students to track temperature, nutrients, humidity and other data points for optimum plant growth. They take field trips and visit with mentors from local universities, including St. Louis Community College’s mobile science lab.

The goal is to teach and encourage students to eventually enter agriculture and bioscience fields, preferably in St. Louis where employers may struggle to find qualified employees, said Stump, the nonprofit’s vice president.

In a few weeks, construction will start on a 3.5-acre terrace garden on an embankment of Interstate 44 along De Tonty Street that is expected to open in the fall. Students will plant and eventually harvest herbs and vegetables, if their tests on the soil come back negative for lead and other toxins. They also plan to nurture bee and other pollinator habitats in the garden.

So far, Green House Venture has raised $360,000 for its programs, which also include a science curriculum for the participating schools and a summer camp. The most ambitious project, a $4 million greenhouse at De Tonty and Lawrence streets, is still two years away, said Thomas Purcell, the organization’s president.

Neighbors said they have been eagerly awaiting the greenhouse since signage went up in 2015. The project’s plans include indoor and outdoor classrooms, fish tanks, planting beds, a science lab and a roof terrace.

For now, the focus is on building the students’ exposure to hands-on science.

So far, the best part has been searching for insects along the highway embankment, said Jayla Dickens, 10, a fourth grader in the Chinese immersion program at St. Louis Language Immersion School.

Shamika Thompson, whose daughter Skylar Patterson, 10, is a fifth grader at Mullanphy, said she appreciates the educational opportunity for the students.

“I know they have a lot more stuff than we had in school,” Thompson said.

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