Feb. 23, 2005 - Like the jolly giant of canned pea fame, Project Green looms large over the biology curriculum at Ironwood Ridge High School.
So does teacher and project coordinator Jim Ewing, who, on a recent Saturday, could be seen sporting a wide-brimmed hat and yellow suspenders, presiding over his latest construction project.
He and dozens of Science Club students assembled Feb. 12 to construct the geodesic dome greenhouse, the latest and most towering addition to Project Green.
(A Saguaro cactus next to the greenhouse might have been taller, but it fell over from natural causes before the building began. It now also has become a science project, a field study in decomposition.)
Other facets under Project Green's umbrella include herb gardens used by the school's culinary arts program, demonstration gardens built by local Eagle Scout troops; desert ponds for collecting drain water from adjacent buildings, an amphitheater to be used as an outdoor classroom space or meeting area, and a desert flora and bird sanctuary.
Ewing said one of the valuable lessons to be learned from the project is that "we do this in an area that is about the size of most people's backyards."
But on this day, the students braved rain and chilly temperatures to assemble the precut pieces of the geodesic dome. Soon, they will add precut triangles of polycarbonate sheeting, seal the cracks, add a water trough and start growing.
The dome, a kit bought for below cost from Growing Domes in Colorado, was purchased using money that took students two years to raise. Biannual plant sales and tax credit donations have made Project Green possible, Ewing said.
"We've been raising money for this since we were freshman," said Madison Umphres, a sophomore Science Club member. "It's just really cool to have a lot of plants because obviously this school is all concrete."
A raised plant bed including chives, mint, garlic, parsley and other herbs and spices is flourishing between two buildings at Ironwood Ridge High School, a previously unused area the school allowed Ewing and his classes to populate with plants.
But Project Green is not just a biology project. It's not just a science or Ironwood Ridge project, either.
Ewing said the area is for use by the high school, Wilson Elementary, Coronado Elementary and the public.
"This is a project that enhances the educational experience of every student on campus, that trains students for several career possibilities and will serve as an example for other schools and communities," he wrote in his original curriculum proposal.
The "green" industry is one of the fastest growing in the nation, he said, and what students enrolled in the Project Green program learn will prepare them for that.
The four-year curriculum entails classes in applied biology, physics, chemistry and business; several levels of green science and green industry preparation; English, social studies, fine arts, physical education, business skills and leadership courses; and a green industry internship.
Project Green is a long-range project with long-term goals, Ewing said, which is why he tries to get participants when they enter Ironwood Ridge as freshmen.
Especially considering that some of the students' efforts will not come to bloom until after they have graduated, Ewing said their dedication to Project Green is commendable.
Some students have a different perspective on their dedication.
"I wouldn't even do this if Mr. Ewing wasn't here," said sophomore Amanda LaSala.
"It looks pretty good for college," said sophomore Laura Hakel.
"We're all science dorks," added Umphres.
The multiple branches of science employed in creating and maintaining Project Green are the source of much appeal to other students.
For sophomore Joseph Zubay, it comes down to geometry.
"We basically just constructed a bunch of hexagons and pentagons," he said. 'I really like seeing it all come together."
Meghan Fallows, a freshman, said she likes the pond, and for fellow freshman Scott Brito "just being out here" building the project is fun.
But at this instant, the project is not going so well.
Ewing calls for students to join him in yelling a round of "heck-phooey-poop" when he realizes all of his screws are too short for the depth of the wood.
Tragedy averted, he opts to countersink the screws.
Ewing also rushes to the rescue when the base pieces for the dome do not meet at the ends. Before too long, the problem is fixed and he orders all hands on deck - even those huddling under the overhang eating cookies - to help hold pieces of the dome as they are fit into place.
They stand with their hands high above their heads, water misting from the sky, trying to hold the pieces still while they are anchored in place.
"It's science and it's fun and it's good and eco-friendly," said sophomore and Science Club president Casey Charlton, before trotting off to lend a helping hand.
Project Green curriculum includes many career paths
Students who participate in the four year applied science program known as Project Green graduate on track to receive licensing in any number of areas within the green industry, said Science Club advisor and teacher Jim Ewing.
Ewing said common career paths for which Project Green prepares students include:
€ Managing a greenhouse and producing and marketing ornamental plants, vegetable crops or herbs
€ Managing university or corporate greenhouse facilities, botanical gardens or conservatories
€ Sales and marking for ornamental seed and plant material companies
€ Sales and marketing with applied support companies such as fertilizer, chemical or soil companies
€ Managing greenhouse facilities for zoos and butterfly conservatories
€ Managing or owning plantscape or interiorscape companies