PRICHARD, W.Va. — A high tunnel that will be used to educate children about produce and growth cycles is being built at Prichard Elementary School and is expected to be completed by the end of the week.
Principal Kelly Bonar said the addition to the school will be a great learning opportunity for students, and she hopes the high tunnel will be used daily by students and staff.
“I’m a former science teacher, so I have these grand visions that it is an outdoor classroom so science lessons are occurring out there Pre-K through fifth grade — so it’s not limited to certain groups of kids,” she said. “The kids will do the manual labor, check the temperature … there is a lot of science in it and recording things, and the kids will do it all.”
A high tunnel is a form of a greenhouse that has retractable sides so that the area can be left open or closed in order to extend the farming or harvest season.
Regulating the temperatures inside can give as much as an extra month in both spring and fall to allow for early planting and extra harvest time.
Bonar said the school has been working with the West Virginia Extension Service office for the past two years to get the high tunnel.
WVU extension agent Evan Wilson said the project has been funded by multiple grants from the county and state.
Wilson said bringing a high tunnel into a school for students to learn from can help get them interested in agriculture at a young age.
“The idea is if you get students interested in agriculture when they are young, in kindergarten or fifth grade, that they will be interested in it when they get into high school,” he said. “Hopefully this will also show kids that this is something they can do at home, too.”
Wilson said nationwide there have been fewer young people getting into farming, and having high tunnels in communities becomes a great resource for locally produced foods.
Bonar said the school plans to sell the produce to community members and student families, similar to how they sell eggs from chickens and ducks raised on the school’s property. She said they hope to plant some staples, such as peas, green beans, tomatoes and more, throughout the school year.
Bonar said she plans to incorporate the high tunnel into class lessons so science skills, among others, can be used in real-world scenarios.
According to Bonar, students will not be the only ones learning, with the majority of the staff being unfamiliar with high tunnels and how to maintain them.
“We are all winging this together, and we are going to rely heavily on our extension agents, our resources and probably even Google,” she said. “But the idea is that they may come out for 30 minutes each week or something and check the produce, pick the weeds, check the temperatures and learn about weather patterns. The teachers, though, including myself, are not skilled in these things either, though, so it will be a learning opportunity for everyone.”
Terry Hudson, chairman of the West Virginia Conservation Agency, was present during the construction to coordinate assembly with Bonar, Wilson and other volunteers.
The Prichard Elementary high tunnel is Hudson’s 209th that he has helped construct in West Virginia. He said people driving down the highway can take any exit and will likely find a high tunnel he helped build.
The high tunnel will be 26 feet wide by 48 feet long when complete. Bonar said cement blocks already at the school’s site will be used for raised bedding.
The high tunnel is being funded by the West Virginia Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant, Marshall University’s Heart of Appalachia Talent Search Program, Great Kanawha Resource Conservation and Development, WVU Extension Services and the Wayne County Board of Education.