In 2018 Academy of Building Industries (AOBI) Superintendent Jean Thomas faced a challenge of what to do with a school bus that could no longer perform its transportation duties. No one wanted the bus, not even for scrap.

But Thomas came up with a creative idea to fulfill her wish to provide a free salad bar as a menu item for student lunches and also create a learning opportunity for the students. She envisioned turning the bus into a greenhouse and growing fresh vegetables for the student lunch salad bar at the Fort Mohave vocational school.

Now about the STEAM part. Using the four disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math, the greenhouse project was underway.

The school bus was transformed into a greenhouse, with translucent panels in the roof, fans for ventilation, an evaporative cooler, irrigation, and planters for seedlings and vegetable plants. Gone was the yellow exterior, replaced with a sky-blue background and colorful plants painted on the side of the bus. Above the windshield the letters “STEAM” are a reminder of using life skills, career skills, and problem solving in building this valuable asset.

To help fund the bus-to-greenhouse conversion, Thomas applied for and received a Mohave Electric Cooperative Sun Watts Education Grant, a program that supports local educators’ efforts to help youth learn sustainable concepts.

From the beginning of the greenhouse, the program has expanded to include gardens in the classroom, and outside, next to the greenhouse. Students built raised planter beds to grow a variety of vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, asparagus, onions, brussel sprouts, parsley, chamomile, and more, all grown from seed.

AOBI science instructor, Chris Aldridge teaches 15 students in greenhouse management, an elective course. Inside the classroom are a mushroom tent; compost bin-with worms and plant scraps that provide nutrients for the garden soil; hydroponic seed starter garden-growing without soil by using water and nutrients; and aquaponic garden-growing using water and fish that provide usable nitrogen for plant nutrition.
In the classroom, greenhouse, and garden, students learn about agriculture concepts, irrigation, and the role of pollinators. The learning experience extends beyond growing vegetables-to nutrition, food preservation such as canning and pickling, even developing ideas for a healthy food type of business.

“We may just also grow some young adults that have a passion for agriculture and healthy living;’ said Aldridge.
As the school year draws to a close, the “Art” in “STEAM” is lending creativity as students paint the other side of the bus in a student­i nspired theme of outer space objects and vegetables.
The gardens will take a break over the summer while students also break, and summer heat makes growing vegetables difficult. When classes resume in the fall, planter bed soil will be removed and the beds will be prepared for a new growing season.

Thomas and Aldridge appreciate help received from community partners that contribute educational assistance, supplies, and financial support for the greenhouse management course. Partners include Bullhead Mushrooms, Star Nursery-Fort Mohave and Bullhead City, Triple Farms-Mohave Valley, Master Gardeners, BHHS Legacy, and Walmart.

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