Ashley Lowery, Deseret News
Said Hirsi, 10, looks at flowers during a ceremony Tuesday celebrating a new greenhouse at Escalante Elementary as part of Salt Lake School District's living classroom project.

Education and government officials are thinking green to get more young people interested in science and the environment.

Kicking off a project funded by an $83,000 grant from Lowe's, educators and representatives of the mayor's and governor's offices cut a big, green ribbon Tuesday morning. The event was to celebrate the construction of a greenhouse on the lawn of Escalante Elementary School in Salt Lake City.

"Science doesn't just exist in a classroom," said Tami Goetz, state science adviser with the governor's office of economic development.

The greenhouse, built with help from students, is the first of a dozen that will be built at schools in Salt Lake District. The goal is to boost the number of young people entering careers in the life sciences and biotechnology.

If people learn to appreciate the environment when they are young, they are more likely to protect it and use it in the future if they have that connection, said Britnie Anderson, a fifth-grade teacher at Escalante. She oversaw the students' efforts this summer with the help of Lowe's employees and other volunteers.

When school starts, the greenhouse will become an important outdoor lab where the kids can grow flowers and vegetation while learning from their efforts.

"A lot of these kids don't see the mountains. They don't see the stars. They don't work in the gardens with their parents," Anderson said. "And so working in gardens here with their teachers and classmates gives them a deeper connection to the land."

Salt Lake District Superintendent McKell Withers agrees. "It connects with learning, values and the students' future," he said.

Escalante, a Title 1 school which opened in 2001, has a science focus by design. "We decided science is the best thing to help our population — the future of these children," said Escalante Elementary Principal Richard Aslett.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker said the city is trying to emphasize partnerships between business, community, education and government. "This is a terrific project in so many ways," Becker said, speaking at Tuesday's ceremony.

But the greenhouse project is just the tip of the iceberg in more action yet to come, thanks to a federal grant, Goetz said.

The Workforce Innovations and Regional Economic Development is a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor that was awarded to the Governor's Office of Economic Development about two years ago.

"This partnership with Lowe's represents our start to get corporate investment," Goetz said. "It's really a springboard from the WIRED initiative."

The Lowe's Charitable and Educational Foundation grant was given to the Salt Lake Education Foundation, the nonprofit fundraising arm of the Salt Lake District.

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