Baylor Students, Faculty Create Greenhouse, Outdoor Learning Space at Local Elementary School

June 17, 2019

Media Contact: Lori Fogleman, Baylor University Media and Public Relations, 254-710-6275
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By Cameron Bocanegra, Baylor School of Education

WACO, Texas (June 17, 2019) – Connally Elementary School in Waco is celebrating a new greenhouse and outdoor learning environment, thanks to the work of Stephanie C. Boddie, Ph.D., assistant professor of church and community ministries in Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, and graduate students from the Baylor School of Education, George W. Truett Theological Seminary and School of Engineering and Computer Science.

Spanning the academic year, the greenhouse project began in the fall when Boddie taught the course “Education from a Gardener’s Perspective” to graduate education and seminary students. In addition to social work, Boddie holds joint faculty appointments at Truett Seminary and the School of Education.

Boddie has an unconventional teaching philosophy based in experiential learning that motivates students to use their skills actively and make real-world applications. Her course focuses on natural growth versus growing with the use of man-made designs.

Teaching in the outdoors

“In the [fall] course, we spend a lot of time learning how to be attentive and present and actually spent the first day of the class walking through a garden,” Boddie said. “A lot of garden-based learning is built on how we teach in the outdoors and how we bring the outdoors to kids to help them learn.”

Boddie’s class then planned the space, and for their midterm grade, collaborated to write a grant proposal to the Whole Kids Foundation, which supports schools and inspires families to improve children’s nutrition and wellness by getting kids excited about fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other nutritious foods.

One of 900 applications submitted to the foundation, their project received $2,000 to build the self-sufficient geodesic dome and support it with life-science lesson plans. Boddie’s fall students also wrote the curriculum.

Tori Davis, a doctoral candidate in curriculum and teaching in the School of Education and a student in Boddie’s experimental fall class, helped write the grant and create the unit lesson plans for Connally Elementary School teachers to use with the greenhouse.

“We made the lesson plans so they didn’t feel burdened to create the curriculum while also serving as an encouragement to use the garden for classroom activities,” Davis said. “If a teacher is trying to make a project like this all on their own, it will be overwhelming. Using institutional support to connect with the community makes these types of projects even more impactful.”

Engineering students design, build greenhouse

Boddie’s next step was connecting with Baylor’s School of Engineering and Computer Science. Every engineering student is required to take a senior design course, in which seniors must choose and complete a capstone design project. Boddie showcased the greenhouse concept as one of the 22 options from which seniors could choose, attracting a group of passionate students who designed and built the greenhouse during the spring semester.

Heat lamps inside the greenhouse keep plants warm during the winter while eight water-filled black barrels, heated by the sun, dissipate energy into the greenhouse and heat the space during the warmer months. When the greenhouse is too hot, temperature-control hinges with air capsules inside will open two small windows in the back of the structure, allowing airflow. Students installed solar panels to power everything inside.

Teresa Kelm, a fifth-grade teacher at Connally Elementary School, is excited to see another addition to the eco-friendly presence that has developed on the school’s 3 grassy acres of opportunity. Where an old homestead used to be, there are now several vegetable gardens, an herb spiral and a shed of gardening tools for student learning. She plans on using the Baylor-created unit lesson plans next fall to introduce life cycles, the difference between living and non-living things and environmental factors.

Every content area can use the greenhouse for classroom purposes, Kelm said. Students can write about the visual experience in their English class, measure the shapes that make up the dome in their math class or consider how people provided food centuries ago in social studies.

Transformational experience

Boddie said she wanted to provide a class that not only focused on how to give students a different learning experience, but also how to give teachers a different way of thinking about teaching and learning.

“They might be able to transform their own experience and engage students, colleagues, parents and the community in different ways because they are seeing and acting as part of a larger ecosystem,” she said.

Boddie recently presented a lecture at Gansu Agricultural University in Lanzhou, China, about this project and the “Education from a Gardener’s Perspective” course and engineering class that resulted in the greenhouse at Connally Elementary.

She joined the Baylor faculty in 2017 and uses her research to explore congregation-based social services and trends in faith-based initiatives, as well as social entrepreneurial approaches to address disparities in wealth, health and food insecurity. She also is a Fellow of the Texas Hunger Initiative at Baylor.


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 17,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.


Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work is home to one of the leading graduate social work programs in the nation with a research agenda focused on the integration of faith and practice. Upholding its mission of preparing social workers in a Christian context for worldwide service and leadership, the School offers a baccalaureate degree (B.S.W.); a Master of Social Work (M.S.W.) degree available on the Waco or Houston campuses or online; three joint-degree options, M.S.W./M.B.A., M.S.W./M.Div. and M.S.W./M.T.S., through a partnership with Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business and George W. Truett Theological Seminary; and an online Ph.D. program. Visit to learn more.


Founded in 1919, Baylor School of Education ranks among the nation’s top 20 education schools located at private universities. The School’s research portfolio complements its long-standing commitment to excellence in teaching and student mentoring. Baylor’s undergraduate program in teacher education has earned national distinction for innovative partnerships with local schools that provide future teachers deep clinical preparation, while graduate programs culminating in both the Ed.D. and Ph.D. prepare outstanding leaders, teachers and clinicians through an intentional blend of theory and practice. Visit to learn more.


Baylor’s School of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS) prepares its students to be innovators for worldwide impact by training graduates for professional practice and responsible leadership with a Christian view. Students can choose from majors including bioinformatics, computer science, electrical and computer engineering, general engineering and mechanical engineering. ECS also offers graduate programs in all areas of study within the School. We stand out from the crowd through Christian commitment, a strong community, expert accessibility, leading practical experience and teamwork. Visit to learn more and follow on Facebook at


Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary is an orthodox, evangelical school in the historic Baptist tradition that equips God-called people for gospel ministry in and alongside Christ’s Church by the power of the Holy Spirit. Accredited by the Association of Theological Schools, Truett Seminary provides theological education leading to the Master of Divinity, Master of Arts in Christian Ministry, Master of Theological Studies and Doctor of Ministry. The MACM and MTS degrees also can be completed at the seminary’s Houston campus. In addition, Truett Seminary offers joint degrees: M.Div./M.S.W. and M.T.S./M.S.W. with the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, M.Div./M.B.A. with the Hankamer School of Business, M.Div./J.D. with Baylor Law School, M.Div./M.M. with the School of Music and M.Div./M.S.Ed. or M.Div./M.A. with the School of Education. Visit to learn more.