Something's growing at the Haverhill Alternative School.
Middle school students of the school's shop class are building a greenhouse — and in the process getting an education in construction skills.
About 20 students all chipped in and learned skills such as cement mixing, power sawing and painting. When the project is finished, teachers and students hope to start growing plants and vegetables for use at the school's cafeteria and sell to local businesses.
The greenhouse will be 15 feet tall, 30 feet wide and 10 feet long. It is located just behind the school on Primrose Street and is, according to wood shop Supervisor Robert Farrell, one of the largest construction projects the school has ever done.
The school gives middle and high school students who struggled in a regular classroom setting alternative methods of learning.
Students participated right from the start of the project, digging a ditch for the foundation. During the summer, high school students painted pieces of wood that make up the greenhouse's frame.
"Not one board went on here without the kids knowing about it," Farrell said.
Working on the greenhouse wasn't just part of the standard curriculum. Students had to earn the right to work on the project by completing their assignments, displaying good conduct and working hard at the project site.
"These guys have spent a lot of time out here since they've been consistent in class," said teacher Jay Burns.
Nathan Gendron, 12, one middle school student involved with the greenhouse since last spring, remembered the hard work involved in digging a 3-foot ditch last spring for the foundation.
Now, just days before the greenhouse is ready to use, he looks back on his hard work with pride.
"We've never done anything like this before," he said. "If somebody wants us to build something when we're older, we'll know how it's done."
Students will have the opportunity to tend and grow whatever sorts of plants they choose.
Science teacher Debbie Schnappauf, who has worked closely with Farrell on the greenhouse, said she originally looked forward to the project just to get plants out of her classroom. She's looking forward to seeing what sorts of plants students will want to grow.
"Many of the students don't have places to grow plants," she said. "Many of them hadn't experienced planting a seed."
John DePolo, principal of the school, said projects like the greenhouse are part of the alternative school's mission to connect their students to useful job skills.
"We want to create more vocational opportunities," he said. "We're looking to go to the next step to connect with local businesses and get our kids jobs."