Dreamstarter Teacher in Igiugig, Alaska builds a community greenhouse with his class

“I have a middle school boy who disliked math. During the greenhouse building project this student came to realize a new way of looking at math. He is seeing geometry in a new light, one with purpose.” –  Dreamstarter Teacher Tate Gooden, Igiugig School, Igiugig, Alaska

The remote village of Igiugig, Alaska, located at the mouth of the Kvichak River on Lake Iliamna, has a population of 70 and limited access.

“Access is by plane or boat as there are no roads,” we were informed by Tate Gooden, a science and math teacher at Igiugig School in his Running Strong Dreamstarter teacher application requesting funding to build a greenhouse at the school. “The subsistence lifestyle plays a major role in people’s lives.”

Salmon from the Kvichak River, moose, caribou, birds and berries from the land make up the bulk of the of the Yup’ik and Athabaskan tribes’ diet.

To supplement the limited amount of fresh produce available in the community, six years ago the village built a greenhouse which has grown in scope over the years to include a school garden, a weekly market day, and a student-run food cart selling local foods.

“This greenhouse will give us more space to work and start seeds as well as extend our growing season by a few weeks on each side of the frost dates,” he explained. “This is an opportunity for the kids to further their skills and interests in self sufficiency which dovetails nicely with the subsistence culture found in Igiugig.

“The Native village of Igiugig and the school are committed to growing healthy food on healthy soil,” he continued. “The greenhouse will also double as an agricultural research center for students to investigate plant science and mathematics. This opportunity will also give our students much needed experience of carpentry and the math and critical thinking skills required.”

The $1,000 Dreamstarter Teacher grant Tate requested would be used to purchase lumber and supplies for the Igiugig School’s Agricultural Research Center Greenhouse.

“This greenhouse will provide students experience with growing food, processing food and selling food,” he said.

Tate noted that his students have shown a special interest in organic growing methods and several of them are involved as interns with the village council greenhouse helping to grow food for the community and are also operating a summer food cart with the produce from the greenhouse.

“This new greenhouse at the school will provide students with their own space to implement projects and conduct agricultural research,” he said. “This project will also give meaningful context to math and science that a textbook cannot.

“This grant will provide us the opportunity to develop self-sufficiency skills that will span generations.”

Fast forward one year, all that Tate predicted in his Dreamstarter Teacher application has been realized with the end result being the construction of the greenhouse built by students who gained valuable carpentry skills.

The greenhouse is serving all the purposes it was designed for including extending the short growing season, providing nutritious food for the community, and teaching students business and social skills through the marketing of the fresh produce.

“The students created something that was not there before…empowering!” exclaimed Tate.

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