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Grant approved for greenhouse equipment at Charleroi Area Middle School

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Students from Howard Johnson's science classes at Charleroi Area Middle School water plants in the school's greenhouse.

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Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, 9:54 a.m.

Howard Johnson would collect water off the roof of the greenhouse behind Charleroi Area Middle School to water plants inside.

His seventh- and eighth-grade life science and outdoor environmental science students would take that water and water the plants inside the greenhouse.

But the science teacher needed a better watering system because the greenhouse had expanded tremendously.

“I decided why not pump that rainwater that is collected off the roof into 55-gallon tanks into the greenhouse,” Johnson said.

Johnson applied in September for a $1,213.66 grant from the Mon Valley Consortium for Public Education to fund purchase of the pumps. The grant was approved in mid-November. Johnson said the pumps will be installed soon so the students can use them by spring.

The pumps are on timers, operating similar to the misting system used in the produce section of a grocery store.

The environmental aspect of his class involves outdoor education, everything from operating an outdoor greenhouse to raised-bed garden beds and composting.

The classes do vermi-composting utilizing various species of worms and traditional composting, utilizing the school's usable garbage.

The dirt they produce from composting is intended to be used for planting.

Composting is the production of organic material that can be used as a soil amendment or as a medium to grow plants, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

There are several parts to the ecosystem built behind the middle school.

The first step was construction of a pond that was dubbed The Big Puddle.

The 1,000-gallon pond was built over one week in the spring of 2008.

The pond is home to snakes, frogs, butterflies, fish — and even a turtle.

The Big Puddle was funded in part by a grant from the Consortium for Public Education.

A Habitat House is also located there.

The greenhouse was built in 2010. The students mainly grow tomato and pepper plants there. Last year, they produced 2,000 tomato plants in the greenhouse.

And the program is stretching out to at least one other district in the county.

Johnson helps elementary-aged students in McGuffey School District with composting as a part of their environmental science classes.

He is a member of that district's agriculture curriculum committee, helping to design and enhance that curriculum.

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or

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