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Spotlight on Streamwood High School Square Foot Garden Project

Reiva with students Chemistry may be known for the periodic table and the bunsen burner, but Streamwood teacher Greg Reiva recently brought the lessons down to earth in a way that students will likely always remember.

About 60 SHS chemistry students spent the past semester working with Reiva on a square foot garden project. Square foot gardening is a highly efficient method of gardening that saves land and water and can function regardless of soil condition or land constraints. Reiva’s three by three square-foot garden is partitioned into nine equal sections and contains vegetables like swiss chard, beans and spinach, as well as soil nutrients. The garden is located next to the building on the south facing side next to the traditional environmental science garden.

Students began the project in February when they germinated vegetable seeds and planted them inside their classrooms in a makeshift greenhouse. Once the warmer weather hit, students took the crops outside and strategically planted them in the garden.

Reiva, who has taught chemistry and physics at SHS for 24 years, said his motivation for the square-foot garden project was to make chemistry instruction more relevant to students’ lives. Students have learned various aspects of chemistry through the production of the square-foot garden. They learned about the different components of the soil and fertilizer and worked on writing equations. They also spent several days taking measurements of the plants’ width and height to find their growth rate over time. These measurements assessed the effectiveness of growing plants in a square-foot garden environment.

“Working with the production of herbs and vegetables lends a great deal of credibility to the learning of chemistry,” Reiva said.

The success of this project will showcase the means and benefits to growing food locally, as well as highlight the resiliency of the Elgin community to combat against climate change and possible disruptions in food supplies across the state and country.

At the end of the project, the information and analysis will be sent to the Village of Streamwood Trustees to advocate for a community-wide square foot garden initiative, according to Reiva.

“Square foot gardening, although not a new idea, has the merits of becoming a well organized and scientific deliberate process that works well within the confines of the classroom curriculum,” Reiva said. “The whole process of growing food crops through the means of square foot gardening has an urban slant to its implementation and therefore is a great pathway for students to advocate city and suburban communities supporting this effort into the future.”

Reiva has always enjoyed creative, hands-on science initiatives for physics and chemistry students and bringing those projects into the curriculum with the support of grants from corporations. For instance, he won a $10,000 grant from the Toshiba America Foundation to support a science project in which a culture of bacteria from tomato roots released pure hydrogen gas as a waste product. Students collected the gas, then used it to produce electricity by means of a fuel cell.

The square foot garden project was Reiva’s last project at SHS. He retired at the end of the school year but he hopes that this project will leave a lasting impact on these students as well as the greater community and that it may continue for SHS students in the years ahead.