Houston, TX,
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Plant a seed and watch it grow

Charles Ortiz knew he wanted to go to Rusk Elementary School. Not just because his older sister went there or because it’s an award-winning STEM magnet school. He wanted to go because of the Geo-dome.

Planting a seed…

When Brenda Boyer joined the staff at Rusk near downtown Houston, the school had a few fruit trees and gardens for outdoor learning activities. During her first year teaching, she came up with the idea of building a geodesic dome.

“With a dome, we could grow and learn all year-round and make a club out of it, pre-K to eighth grade,” Boyer explained.

The principal was on board and charged Brenda with the fundraising. This was no small task. Brenda had almost given up on the Geo-dome. Then, in the spring of 2012, she came across a crowdsourcing philanthropy program called Cause An Effect (now State Farm Neighborhood Assist®).

“I applied online and completely forgot about it. Several weeks later I got an email from State Farm and ignored it,” Brenda shared. “I got another email and thankfully I opened this one and took action. We made it to the next phase and had a chance to win the $25,000.”

Watching it sprout…

The school and its community pulled together.

“The Facebook voting was very, very exciting,” shared Charles’ older sister Dominique Ortiz, a seventh grader at Rusk at the time.

“We didn’t really think we would get it. Mrs. Boyer is the most devoted and tenacious teacher I’ve ever had. It was cool to see it finally happen,” Dominique, now a sophomore, said.

Nourishing the bud…

The geo-dome wasn’t built right away, so the teachers continued to teach in their hands-on style.

Kindergarten through eighth graders learn the basics of growing food. They plant the seeds inside the dome and then replant them in the gardens later. “The kids think it’s really fascinating to watch something pop up out of the dirt in their little Styrofoam cup!” Brenda shared.

The students did a lot of work in science class and in summer camps.

“Whenever you get to touch something it will stick in your mind better than a textbook. It really helped me learn better,” Dominique remembered.

It also gave her a new appreciation for what it takes to grow food.

“We put so much effort into growing the plants. It makes you not want to waste anything. Not everyone in the world has this abundance” Dominique shared.

Appreciating the flower…

After years of difficulties from permits to new building construction, the Geo-dome was finally built.

The dome was ready for use in October 2015. Charles had been looking forward to it for three years.

“The dome will let more students experience growing plants and food. It will help us remember better, having this experience. And you are going to be proud of what you got out of it, because of all the effort you put into it,” shared Charles.

Now, every student at Rusk gets to work in the dome and experience this unique outdoor learning environment. The school will also be able to produce more food and share their hard work.

“The Star of Hope Mission homeless shelter is just blocks away from our school. We want the dome to not just be outdoor learning but also a service-learning project,” Brenda said. “We will engage the Mission and give food to help those who need it the most.”

“Giving back to their community will teach the students a different kind of lesson. Giving is caring. Hopefully this is a lesson that will last a lifetime. ”

The State Farm Neighborhood Assist program connects individuals and communities with local non-profits to build safer, stronger, better educated communities.

SFNA invites people to submit a community cause about which they’re passionate and can rally behind for a chance to win one of 40 $25,000 grants, exclusively through Facebook.