Campus Happenings: Building Nature’s Classroom with Daniel Nicholls

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Daniel Nicholls, agricultural director at Holbrook Indian School, doesn’t have a classroom per se. There is a room that he occasionally uses if it’s too cold or too wet outside, or when he has to give a lecture or present traditional instruction. For the past few months, however, he has been working hard in planning and building a dedicated space that combines teaching and hands-on practice for the students. The building is still in the early stages; here Daniel shares how he hopes to turn this vision into a reality.

Daniel Nicholls
We don’t have a dedicated space for transplanting and potting. The makeshift area that I have been working in is way too cold during the winter months. As things stand right now, we work on our nursery starts in one area. Then I have to move the plants into the boys’ dorm basement to keep them warm under grow lights during the winter months. We are currently building a 20- by 50-foot greenhouse so we can have everything in one place. We will be able to work on the plants in the greenhouse and not have to move back and forth.

This greenhouse will be the place where we start the nursery trays, but it will also be a place for theory instruction. Currently, I will occasionally borrow a classroom from a teacher to go over lessons in agriculture. However, when you are talking about plants, it’s always better for students to be in an environment where they are surrounded by plants. In a sense, the new greenhouse will be like a gardening lab. I can teach theory and instruction without having to take all the students from the classroom or work area over to the boys’ dormitory basement where the nursery trays we started are being stored.

We do have some existing greenhouses being used as areas for traditional greenhouse growing. I am hoping to install some more systems into them. However, the new gardening lab is the main objective at the moment. With this new project, the plan is to introduce our students to some alternative methods of growing. For example, I plan to set up basil in a hydroponic system because that’s an excellent way for our students to learn about the nutrients that a plant needs.

This new project will be a place for our students to learn more about gardening. It will be a setting that gives us the space, the tools, and the resources to do that. In addition, the students are helping to build this gardening lab, adding to the learning experience.

For more on this project, visit: HolbrookIndianSchool.org/gardenlab.

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By Chevon Petgrave and Daniel Nicholls