By Jeff Crosby
By Jeff Crosby
Operating out of a 60,000 square foot greenhouse facility on the eastern boundary of London, Ontario, a not-for-profit social enterprise has been building partnerships in education to teach youth in an innovative new skills development program.
Greenhouse Academy, or GHA for short, has designed a one-of-a-kind learning program that provides students with opportunities to develop global competencies. These competencies highlight the need for students to meet the shifting and ongoing demands of life, work, and learning; all while contributing to other positive outcomes such as their education, environmental stewardship, relationship building, future employment, and their personal health and well-being. GHA educational director Mike Crosby says, “Simply put, students need life skills. [These] skills that allow you to work with others, identify and solve problems, direct your own learning, and interact with all members of the community.” At GHA, these life skills are developed in the workplace.
Each day, entire classrooms of students enter the academy. Participants are instantly divided into small groups throughout the facility to learn the many aspects of operating this existing perennial, tree and shrub production operation. Students work and learn alongside professionals from many different industries, creating an authentic learning experience that is extensive and all encompassing.
In addition to organizing and planning schedules for workshops, students coordinate sales events, create product displays and market products. They also manage inventory, complete daily chores, organize production lines, complete feasibility studies and use social media to communicate with other schools that partake in the program. “Students learn that the workplace is incredibly diverse, and every aspect of a business is incredibly important. There is a position for everyone, and no position is more or less important than the other,” says founder Jeff Crosby. At the end of every day, students gather for a period of reflection, going over the various goals that were achieved in the curriculum, while participating in this hands-on approach.
Helping to provide these educational opportunities at the GHA are in-kind partners who assist in product development, skills training, sales and career awareness. Community organizations, private businesses, or other educational programs are constantly working throughout the facility to engage students in new ways and introduce students to new industries. Throughout its development, GHA students have received opportunities to work alongside industry leaders such as Connon Nurseries NVK, Sheridan nurseries, Wellington County Green Legacy Program, Unilock, Bluejay Irrigation, Landscape Ontario, Fanshawe College, Junior Achievement, TLC Landscaping, and Elgin Middlesex Oxford Workforce Planning and Development. “We hope to introduce students to as many professionals as possible, breaking down barriers and eliminating traditional stereotypes that students have of many different industries and lines of work,” says Jeff.
Having started the program over three years ago, GHA has since worked with over 3,000 participants, ranging from high schools, elementary schools, college students through co-op placements, and special needs participants. Whether it be facilitating primary school field trips coordinated by high school students, encouraging community groups and businesses to work alongside students and create learning opportunities, or providing a supportive work environment for recreational therapists to help those with disabilities, GHA is building community connections.
The academy serves students living throughout the city of London, Elgin County, Oxford County, Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, Munsee Delaware nation and Oneida nation of the Thames. GHA products are for sale in nurseries and markets throughout southwestern Ontario, as well as out of their own facility. GHA also provides contract growing services, facility rentals, and fundraisers using plant material. All sales and services support the sustainability of this not-for-profit and help to broaden its reach to more students and communities.
Learn more about Greenhouse Academy at www.greenhouseacademy.ca, or follow the GHA social media pages @GHAOntario for product sales and community events. To get your business or organization involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org and help grow futures!
Jeff Crosby is founder of the Greenhouse Academy. He can be reached at email@example.com.
This article was written with files from Mark Plotkins.