From the greenhouse to the classroom to beyond, FHC is a beacon of environmental knowledge


Olivia Cormaci

FHC’s greenhouse offers critical information for students while simultaneously providing staff and students with fresh produce.

Rain or shine, hybrid or in-person, senior Olivia Cormaci can regularly be found tending to the countless plants inside FHC’s greenhouse. As one of only two seniors taking an independent study with AP Environmental Science (APES) teacher Chad Scholten, Olivia has the unique opportunity of getting hands-on experience in the greenhouse in a range of topics from understanding how the greenhouse functions to exactly what it takes to cultivate a fruitful produce garden.

After taking APES, Olivia was inspired to continue down the path of environmental science, and despite her busy senior agenda, she managed to fit an hour of working in the greenhouse into her schedule. Not only does her independent study allow her to take a break from the typical school day in order to spend time doing what she loves, but it has also changed her thought process when it comes to perceiving the world around her on a daily basis.

“I’ve come to the point where, in everyday life, I’ll notice things [and realize] ‘oh, that’s not environmentally safe at all; if they just did this simple thing, they could do this and this,'” Olivia said. “I didn’t have that perspective before, and I’ve gained that through taking APES. I think it’s incredibly important that everyone has that perspective, and I hope more people will in the future.”

For Olivia, this perspective has galvanized her to take a greater part in caring for the environment. Because of her newfound environmental conscience, Olivia has been able to alter even the most trivial parts of her day into actions that benefit the planet she calls home. 

Olivia believes that true care for the environment comes in these seemingly insignificant moments. 

“Everyone has a part to play when it comes to environmental science,” Olivia said. “If you conserve water at home, or if you compost different scraps [like] banana peels, coffee, or strawberries, you can help the environment and help the little ecosystem at your own home. I don’t think people really understand that they can enact change by just doing these little things.”

I don’t think people really understand that they can enact change by just doing these little things.”

— Olivia Cormaci

Although Olivia focuses on the little things, her experience in APES gave her a larger understanding of the overarching themes present in environmental science from pollution to energy consumption to climate change. When learning about all these topics, it’s difficult not to be inspired to learn more.

For APES teacher Chad Scholten, the impact APES had on Olivia is not out of the ordinary. Through his many years teaching APES, Scholten has seen the profound effect learning about the environment has had on students as well as on himself.

“I always say to my students [that APES] is a lifestyle class,” Scholten said. “You can’t teach it without having it change you in some way. Whether it’s the food you eat, the products you buy, [or] what kind of car you drive, [you learn that] all those small choices have an impact on the environment on a bigger scale.”

Inside the greenhouse, kale is entering its dormant mode (Olivia Cormaci)

Scholten himself has been deeply impacted by the class he teaches, but his journey toward bettering the environment did not start in his first APES class at FHC. Although he had always been intrigued by science in general, none of the branches of science seemed to stick with him the way environmental science did. 

“[My] interest and curiosity in nature overall [is] what got me interested in science, and I really liked the interaction between people and the environment,” Scholten said. “What I really like about environmental science is [that] you get both the human elements [and] nature [elements], and it’s a way that we can have stewardship, or care, for the environment.”

Scholten’s involvement in environmental science was the catalyst for the changes in his daily life from the food he eats to the clothes he buys, and his care for the environment extends far outside the classroom. One of his largest eco-friendly ventures has without a doubt been his involvement in the construction and the upkeep of FHC’s greenhouse. 

Although current FHC students have always known the high school’s ecological addition to be a part of the campus, the greenhouse is a relatively new addition to the school. With its construction taking place in the spring of 2017, Scholten has been a member of the greenhouse since its implementation, and he even remembers exactly what ideas stirred the creation of FHC’s beloved greenhouse.

“The reason we started the greenhouse is [because] everybody should know where their food comes from and what they’re eating,” Scholten said. “The whole idea of the greenhouse is to try to connect us with our environment and specifically connect us with our food because we don’t grow our own food in our backyard anymore.”

For senior Bela Gonzalez, the construction of the greenhouse itself is one of the most compelling concepts she has learned through her journey in environmental science thus far. As the second student involved in the agricultural science independent study, she has spent a large amount of time in the greenhouse, and yet, she has never failed to be wowed by its inner workings. 

Bela Gonzalez in the greenhouse during her independent study (Bela Gonzalez)

“It took a lot of work and a lot of thought and a lot of smarts to build the greenhouse,” Bela said. “It is just so fascinating, and more people should take a look at it.”

Bela’s love for the greenhouse and environmental science as a whole inspires her every day and has provided her with motivation to continue her environmental endeavors after high school. As she hopes to minor in environmental studies, her activism on behalf of the planet is far from over.

Even today, Bela is always finding ways to spread awareness about environmental science. For Bela, one of the most common environmental topics she speaks on is the idea that there is no Plan B—Earth is our only home.

“We can all do our parts to save the environment a little bit,” Bela said. “We do only have one earth, [and] you should be mindful of what you do and what you consume. Even though it’s not technically our job to do something—it’s really the big companies—you should [still] just put in a little bit of effort.”

At the end of the day, Bela’s hope for the future and compassion for generations to come are the two of the biggest factors in her environmental activism. From changing her behavior on a day-to-day basis to reminding those around her to make eco-friendly choices, the impact Bela has had on the world around her is anything but small.

Climate change is a serious issue, but many hands make light work, and changemakers like Scholten, Olivia, and Bela are committed to making an eco-friendly future a guarantee, not just a possibility. 

Although Bela’s second hour of potting plants and harvesting lettuce won’t end climate change tomorrow, her actions do have immense repercussions, and her encouragement to others is what ultimately will protect our one and only home: Earth.

“The agricultural science study that I’m doing is so fascinating,” Bela said. “The environment and the people—it’s so fascinating, and it doesn’t take a lot to help Mother Earth. It really doesn’t. [Helping the environment] is important to me, and it’s important for future generations. I don’t want to just think about myself; I want to think [about] everyone.”