Growing up on a 60-acre farm in Lapeer where she spent multiple summers working in a greenhouse, Carolyn Tuski, botany teacher and greenhouse manager at Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy in Pontiac, is no stranger to planting. Today, Tuski brings all of her plant and gardening knowledge to the school’s botany class.
The class, which is in its first year, perfectly complements the school’s new greenhouse, which is part of the new science, art and technology wing at Notre Dame. Students can experience botany as an elective course in grades 10-12. The greenhouse provides an opportunity for students at every grade level to learn about plants – from seeds to cells.
“Plants play a very important role in the lives of the students, whether they realize it or not. My biggest goal for these students is for them to have a deeper appreciation for plants,” Tuski says. “I want to integrate plants into a popular language with the students. We depend on plants, but we don’t realize how truly dependent we are on them. Plants are used in things like medicine, food, clothing and cosmetics. My main goal is for students to see plants as more than something green outside.”
Many students who take the botany class at Notre Dame have limited experience with gardening. To help students see the growing process in the span of a semester, Tuski says she picked items that would grow quickly – such as basil, lettuce, parsley, spinach and kale. The greenhouse is equipped to grow plenty of plants and she hopes to add tomatoes and flowers to the class this spring.
“Some of the students didn’t realize how long it took to grow a plant that’s edible. They are so shocked by that,” Tuski says. “They learned patience. In a world where everything is at our fingertips, it was a good lesson in stepping back and saying ‘I have to wait.'”
The greenhouse is the place for students to grow plants throughout the school year, but Notre Dame also has outdoor garden beds, and Tuski is already working on the summer program so that the plants can continue to thrive year-round.
In addition to managing the greenhouse and teaching botany, Tuski is developing a curriculum where students from kindergarten through middle school who attend Notre Dame Marist Academy have the opportunity to work with plants, too.
The botany class is very hands-on. Students learn about plants at the cellular level all the way through the basic uses of plants – it’s all practical knowledge, Tuski adds.
“Every day, we go into the greenhouse and we do some kind of work. We’ll go back into the classroom and work on that day’s lesson. The greenhouse provides its own lessons in and of itself. There are always teachable moments,” Tuski says. “What we learned in the classroom, we can exactly see and do in the greenhouse.”
And, the plants the students are growing are not going unused.
“I let the students eat their work. I’m also trying to pull in giving back to our community, so we donate the crops we raise to different soup kitchens and food banks in the Pontiac area,” Tuski says. “We are using the food that we grow in our school cafeteria.”
Tuski says she hopes that many students get to experience the process of life in the greenhouse and see it as more than just a unit in their science class.
“We’re trying to create well-rounded students. I think this helps with that mission,” Tuski says. “The students are very excited about it. We take more of an integrated approach to learning, so we are showing the students connections. Though botany is a science, there is so much math, technology, and art involved in it, and can be easily integrated into the language, literature, social studies, and religion classes. This gives them a deeper level of learning.”
For more information on Notre Dame and its offerings, visit ndpma.org.