Local Teacher Receives $1,000 Grant; Sixth Grade Undertakes Greenhouse Science Project

Outside an open doorway of Mount Madonna School’s (MMS) upper campus greenhouse, three sixth grade girls fill small plastic garden pots with soil and compost. The team works efficiently, one passing pots to the next, who fills it and then passes it on to be placed on a nearby wooden table, in preparation for planting some native seeds they gathered earlier in the school year. Nearby some of their classmates work together on refurbishing an irrigation system, carefully piecing together plastic water pipe and fittings.

The students’ efforts are part of a class science project funded with a $1,000 grant from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Middle school mathematics and science teacher James “PD” Rohan received the award earlier this school year, with the stipulation that it be used to support any project-based curriculum in which students were involved hands-on. After some discussion with his sixth grade class, a decision was made to revitalize the greenhouse on the school’s upper campus.

“We want to make this greenhouse functional again,” says Rohan. “It was built several years ago by [former] MMS faculty member Weston Miller, along with a number of really enthusiastic students. Now, for the past three or four years it’s been idle and used for storage. Receiving this grant makes it possible for a new group of students to get involved with a long-term project using native trees and plants as our focus.”

Rohan says he is introducing a business component into the greenhouse curriculum as well, giving students a chance to learn about business models and entrepreneurship, track expenses and income, learn about marketing and share responsibility for the various tasks needed to make the project successful.

Cleanup in and around the site – cutting back brush and removing accumulated debris – was accomplished in January. Rohan then hired a local carpenter to build shelves and potting tables in the greenhouse. Once that was complete, sixth graders began potting some of the seeds that they’d collected last fall. So far some 1,000 native plant and tree seeds have been started, including tan oak, coastal live oak, madrone, redwood and manzanita. The class visits the greenhouse biweekly to care for them.

The sixth graders are planning to use some of the seedlings as prizes for an eco-carnival game they will host at the upcoming Summit for the Planet Walk-a-thon and celebration on April 28. The class has also decided to donate a portion of the proceeds earned from their carnival game to help with the medical expenses of four-year-old Max Zimmerman, son of MMS alum Carbys Zimmerman ( ’92 ). Max was diagnosed with leukemia in 2011, and is now in remission.


Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, Marketing & Communications,

Nestled among the redwoods on 355 mountaintop acres, Mount Madonna is a safe and nurturing college-preparatory school that supports students in becoming caring, self-aware and articulate critical thinkers, who are prepared to meet challenges with perseverance, creativity and integrity. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville.

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