WILDWOOD — Students across all grade levels in the Wildwood School District will get a farm-to-table learning experience as the district unveiled a new outdoor classroom this week.
Combining thousands of dollars from multiple funding sources and donations from community members, the district transformed an empty outdoor area into a “Classroom By The Sea,” complete with raised plant beds and a greenhouse, the bounty from which is used by high school students in the culinary arts program.
Tricia Lemma, 21st Century Program coordinator for Wildwood, said the idea for the project began five years ago when the district began a small outdoor garden.
“The students were so excited about seeing squash and cucumbers and we said, ‘we can do more,’” Lemma said. “It became a collaborative project.”
On Friday, the district held a ribbon cutting for the greenhouse and the Warrior Café, a restaurant run by the district’s culinary students. The Warrior Café, which opened last year, is available to the public three days a week and the students serve tables, cook food and create a budget and menu for the restaurant.
The outdoor garden area will be used by the after-school program, but all the teachers in the building will have the opportunity to use the space during the school day.
“This project is a comprehensive project in every sense of the word. You have taken multiple funding sources and you have created a program and facilities that meet the needs of not only the school but the community. And moving along you’re creating job opportunities through training for all of your students,” said Ed Mahaney, former educator and member of the Board of Trustees of Sustainable Jersey.
Lemma said the major funding sources for the projects were a $10,000 donation from local philanthropist John Lynch, $10,000 from an OceanFirst Foundation model classroom grant, money from the district’s 21st Century Community Learning Center after-school program grant, and Sustainable Jersey.
“We hope that all of you that are here today will embrace this program and get everything out of it that you possibly can so that someday you can also become great, productive members of the communities and just keep giving back,” said Kathy Durante, executive director of the Ocean First Foundation.
Lemma also noted that Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano’s business, Troiano and Sons, donated the time and materials to build the foundation of the greenhouse. Students in the industrial arts program and their instructor, Michael Crane, built the raised beds for the plants. Representatives from the Nature Center of Cape May visit the students in the afterschool program to teach them about plants and animals.
“It’s been a journey that started out with a seed and just has grown,” Lemma said.
During the ribbon cutting Friday, Lynch announced an additional $2,500 donation to the project and promised $2,500 more in upcoming years.