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Chester County Press

Solar canopy adds new dimension to garden at Patton Middle School

10/30/2014 12:52AM ● By Lev

By John Chambless

Staff Writer

What began four years ago as a way of teaching Patton Middle School students about gardening took a big step toward self-sufficiency on Oct. 24 with the addition of solar panels that will provide electricity for a greenhouse on the school grounds.

Panels mounted on a parking canopy will collect solar energy so it can be converted into electricity, adding a high-tech dimension to a project that's firmly rooted in the soil. At a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the morning of Oct. 24, Phoebe Kitson-Davis, from the Chester County Food Bank, explained that of more than 50 school gardens in Chester County, the one at Patton is the biggest.

"This raised bed garden far surpasses any other school garden in the county," she said before the ceremony, "both in terms of the volume of what's produced, and the dedicaton of the teachers."

The vegetables are tended by students and donated to Kennett Area Community Services and other agencies for families who might otherwise not be able to get fresh foods to supplement the non-perishables available at the food bank. The gardens and greenhouse are harvested from March through December, and families volunteer to tend the beds during the summer, when classes are not in session.

"The garden has brought up a great conversation about who's hungry in Chester County, why are they hungry, and what we can do to help alleviate that," Kitson-Davis said. She will soon be talking to eighth-grade geography students about global hunger and how geography affects poverty worldwide, she said.

The garden at Patton teaches students about plant structure and biology, it shows them how to grow their own food, it encourages a spirit of giving, and its products are used in preparing fresh foods in the family and consumer science classes. The whole project is run through donations and volunteers, at no cost to taxpayers. The benefits -- both for students and hungry families -- are far-reaching, Kitson-Davis said.

There were plenty of people to thank at the ceremony, which was held under the parking canopy that spans several parking spaces. Attending the event were Sen. Dominic Pileggi and Rep. Chris Ross, who thanked the donating agencies, students and teachers for their work. Also on hand were school district superintendent John Sanville, several school board members, Patton principal Tim Hoffman, former principal Bruce Vosburgh,  and dozens of students who take family and consumer science classes.

Will Mullin, from Tri-M in Kennett Square, said that Schletter, Inc., provided the metal frame and concrete base for the canopy, Tri-M Group provided the electrical work, and Motech LLC provided the solar panels. United Electric Supply donated the inverters, which take the solar energy and convert it to power that the school can use. "Tri-M put all the pieces together," Mullin said.

Patton teachers Betsy Ballard and Kimberly Hisler were repeatedly singled out as driving forces in the classroom and in getting the gardens built and expanded, and for how they use the project in their STEM curriculum.

"Four years ago, we began the Patton garden project with an idea," Hisler said. "The gardens are now an integral part of the family and consumer science classes. The students learn about healthy eating, sustainable practicies, and renewable resources. Also, giving back to others. In addition to cooking and gardening, students make quilts and pillowcases for sick children at A.I. DuPont Hospital. Each year, our classes grow as more students find rewards from giving back to their community."

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, e-mail jchambless@chestercounty.com.

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