Learning center to have greenhouse, kitchen for hands-on education

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RUMFORD — Seedlings and freshly grown vegetables, along with a few flowers, will soon be a significant part of the Pennacook Learning Center educational program.

Starting in the fall, a new greenhouse will be in place, complete with huge, south-facing windows. Just below it, there will be a kitchen to turn some of the anticipated homegrown produce into fresh salsa or other vegetable dishes.

Thanks to about $75,000 from the federal economic stimulus bill, special education co-director Paula Leavitt was able to begin working with a local architect to transform two sections of the former Virginia Elementary School in the Virginia section of town into a chance for some hands-on experience.

“Other day treatment centers have lots of hands-on activities. I have a big vision of growing tomatoes, cilantro, peppers, then producing salsa in the kitchen,” she told the board of Western Foothills Regional School Unit 10 Monday night.

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The horizontal windows in the soon-to-be new kitchen on the first floor and the similar-sized windows on the second floor of the greenhouse will be enlarged to more than three times their current size.

Marcia Rajaniemi, the secondary teacher at the learning center, and a lover of all things planted and growing, will organize the activities for children of all ages. She and her students have grown seedlings in the current windows. She envisions growing zucchini and carrots, then cooking them and using applesauce instead of sugar “to show them how to eat healthy.”

“The kids really get involved with the seedlings in the windows (in the past), by watering them and caring for them. This greenhouse/kitchen is the next step,” she said.

Both Leavitt and Rajaniemi can also envision going a step further.

“Maybe we could explore opportunities to grow seedlings for other schools in the district that have gardens,” Leavitt said.

In the meantime, Leavitt has been working with an architect from the Bethel firm of Smith Reuter Lull on the design of the kitchen and greenhouse. Leavitt, who also loves growing a garden, said many students at Pennacook learn differently than some of their peers.

“Growing plants nourishes the soul. Kids love hands-on activities. We hope to develop a nurturing nature,” she said.

Work is expected to begin later in the spring. When the students return in the fall, both the kitchen and greenhouse will be ready.

“The kids are really excited about it,” she said.

Pennacook serves about 25, kindergarten to grade 12 special needs children in RSU 10.

Both new facilities will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

eadams@sunjournal.com

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