One big IDEA

South Mecklenburg High freshman Jake Elabdellaoui didn’t know what the IDEA Academy was all about when he started school in August.

Students get a little help building the shell of the greenhouse as part of South Mecklenburg High School’s IDEA Academy.

Students get a little help building the shell of the greenhouse as part of South Mecklenburg High School’s IDEA Academy.

Jake is one of 75 students in the Innovation, Design, Engineering and Art Academy, a new program at the school that focuses on a new type of education that promotes learning as a collaborative, intertwined process. So when Jake heard about the greenhouse project IDEA Academy students would work on throughout the year, he wasn’t quite sure what to expect, and learning to use a hammer and other tools wasn’t even in sight.

“I didn’t even know what to expect with all this because I was just placed in the academy – I didn’t sign up. So when they told us we were going to be building a greenhouse, it just seems like something you would do in real life, so to be able to experience that now is just really cool,” Jake said.

On Friday, Sept. 27, IDEA Academy students, along with volunteers from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and JE Dunn Construction, started the first phase of a yearlong project, pulling weeds, grouting block and building frames for a sustainable farm-to-table greenhouse. the project is part of the academy’s curriculum, which is seamlessly infused from one class to another.

About 10 to 15 students from South Mecklenburg’s ACE, or architecture, construction and engineering, after-school program also helped with the build. Together, the two groups of students will work throughout the year to get the greenhouse up and running.

“One of the cornerstone pieces for the academy is that there is a yearlong project associated with each group that they work on together. This year, for our inaugural year, this is it,” Brittany Stone, the program’s project coordinator and an English teacher, said.

Students started the project by first cleaning up the site, which previously was home to an old, rundown greenhouse. They pulled weeds and searched for salvageable pieces that could be upcycled and reused in the new greenhouse. The students will brainstorm and together decide how to use the old pieces.

On Friday, students focused on building the house’s frame under the direction and guidance of workers and volunteers from JE Dunn Construction, one of the academy’s lead partners. The program also is partnering with the Civic & Cultural Arts Center of Pineville, the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and University of North Carolina at Charlotte College of Arts and Architecture.

“Today, they’ve been learning about the angles and the math, in addition to the construction aspect and the architectural stuff,” Stone said at Friday’s build. “And they’re having a blast. Everyone has something interesting they’ve learned.”

Next, IDEA Academy students will pass the reigns to ACE students, who will brainstorm and decide how to create the “envelope” of the greenhouse, Stone said, or the materials needed for the roof and the walls. Students will design and implement those materials with the help of mentors from JE Dunn, Stone added.

Once again, IDEA Academy students will take the project over and, with the help from interior design classes, decide how the inside space will be organized and what type of plants they will grow.

“We’re getting a wish list from the culinary arts program, so that’s going to take priority. And then if we have extra space, the IDEA students will get the chance to decide what they would like to grow,” Stone said.

ACE students will work on the greenhouse’s electrical and irrigational systems, working to stay within a budget, while IDEA Academy students in Stone’s own English classes will work on grant writing to help fund materials for the actual plant beds.

“There also is a community piece that is ‘How is this going to allow them to leave their sweat, legacy equity here at the school and in the community?’” Stone said, adding the students hope to one day share their hard work with younger students from other schools.

“Now that they have this new skill set, how are they going to apply it and give back? They are so excited about that piece,” she said.

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