Task force plans rebirth of Life Lab

By Reggie Ellis

Stan Dillon had almost given up. He was ready to turn his green thumbs upside down and his head away from what he had helped build.

The third-grade teacher who started Rocky Hill's Life Lab on a 31,000 square-foot patch of dirt 10 years ago was tired of scrounging for funding, being underappreciated for his efforts and fighting to keep something good for the students of Rocky Hill when few others would. The man who wanted nothing more than to bring the county's largest industry into focus for some of its youngest minds had little hope for the future of his creation.

But now the emphasis has shifted back to the Life Lab with a renewed interest from concerned citizens, teachers and parents who don't want it to come to an end. A group of 13 people met on the patio of the Life Lab to discuss how to get it ready for winter plantings and set up a schedule to maintain it during intersessions and breaks.

"I never saw Johnson grass and weeds when we started this," Dillon said. "The kids would grow their vegetables and we made stir fry. They were exited about trying vegetables they didn't like because they had grown them themselves."

The group discussed making it more visually appealing without choking the agricultural roots of the project -- a garden and lawn seating area facing Cambridge Street -- setting a schedule for quarterly or bi-monthly clean up days, and forming a committee to prioritize needs, organize work days, manage incoming money and report to the school's Site Council.

The committee set Saturday, Sept. 18 as a community clean up day for the Life Lab. Anyone who would like to help restore the Life Lab in time for students to plant a winter crop should put on their work gloves and bring spades, shovels, and rakes to the Life Lab at 8 a.m. If anyone is interested in helping or has questions regarding the Life Lab the can call Reggie Ellis at The Exeter Sun, 592-3171 or Nancy Becker at Culligan Water. Other committee members include Judy Silva, Dennis Dismuke, Doug Snider, Charlie Norman and Principal Jessica Bradshaw.

Dillon is an advisor to the committee and once again has a renewed vigor for the potential of teaching in the Life Lab.

"I think as long as we maintain it the teachers will come back and use the planting beds here," Dillon said. "The curriculum is state approved and has been here for the last eight years."

After the meeting, Dillon talked with several of the children whose parents had come to the meeting. The inflection in his voice was different. The past tense had turned to present.

"Do you know why the water in this pond is so clean?" Dillon asked the children. "Because this plant helps to clean the water," he said as he pointed to one of the few green plants.

While much of the dirt is overrun with weeds, the group agreed the potential for something great still lied within the ground. whatever has died in the Life Lab is about to be reborn with the help of 13 people and a teacher's whose spirits, and green thumbs, are on the rise.

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