For several years, an indoor growing tower has been located near the CDHS staffroom. From the left: CDHS student Caitlyn Baker, teachers Heather Grant, Francis Olivira and principal Trevor Wheeler. Thompson Goddard Photo

WILLIAMSTOWN – Char-Lan District High School in Williamstown has been selected as one of two Upper Canada District schools to be part of a pilot project that will see a geodesic dome constructed on school property. 

For several years staff and students have developed on the eastern side of school property an orchard with apple and other fruit varieties, raised vegetable beds and a compost area as well as Indigenous Three Sisters Garden.

CDHS teacher Heather Grant described The Char-Lan Experimental Farm as being “supported by Green Industries’ course student, Agricultural High Skills Major students (Ag SHSM), the Green Team Club, as well as students in other courses who collaborate on various cross-curricular, hands-on projects connected to the farm with the participation of students from Williamstown Public School. Located across the street from CDHS, the farm provides learning experiences for students at the elementary, intermediate, and senior levels.  

It includes a fruit orchard with 25 apple, pear and plum trees, six raised vegetable garden planters, picnic tables and large wood composter (which were all built by Char-Lan students), a market garden, tree nursery with approximately 140 trees planted in 2022 and two indoor hydroponic gardens. An Indigenous Three Sisters Garden has been created as well as a market garden, butterfly, and perennial gardens, which were designed and planted by Grade 9 science students. 

Francis Oliveira, the school’s green technology teacher, has provided instruction on the hügelkultur style of gardening, which utilizes biomass compost from the school in the raised planters and students have received instruction on tree pruning from local arborists. There has been collaboration from students and staff in other courses with Grant mentioning how “Foods, nutrition and Spec. Ed cooking courses give students experience, not just cooking their own food, but also growing and harvesting their own food, designing recipes around what they have grown indoors and outdoors year-round.”

Community involvement in the farm included collaboration with local community groups and individuals as well as the student donating fresh vegetables to community food drives, a pandemic porch planter project, AGAPE donations and in 2020 “grow your own garden” kits.

The addition of the geodesic dome to the north of this area will add an important and additional component to the work already accomplished. The dome, manufactured by Arctic Acres, will be 42 feet in diameter. CDHS principal Trevor Wheeler commented the planning for the project began in April 2022, with construction beginning in November 2022 and completion expected in February 2023.  

“The opportunities in this space is only limited by our imagination” commented Wheeler, who explained the dome will serve as a learning lab providing both students and staff with multifunctional learning opportunities. Subjects such as mathematics, geography, economics, green technology, and biology can use the dome to achieve curriculum-based outcomes in a real-world setting.

Oliveira explained the technology class will work as a team to discover ideas to maximize the space and construct materials such as seating places and planters. The market garden at CDHS grows tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, beans, squash, corn, and pepper and is planted and maintained by Oliveira and students in his Green Technology course. He mentioned transportation technology students and their teacher Darrell McDonell designed and built a broad fork, used for aerating the soil, for use at Char Lan.

CDHS student Caitlyn Baker mentioned it was “very cool” that students are able to use something that was made by their peers.  All agreed this is an important part of the process and provides student empowerment, a sense of accomplishment and connection to the real world. Baker envisions student art classes providing artwork for the dome and perhaps the building serving as a location for music students to hold classes. 

For several years CDHS teacher Heather Grant has been an integral part of the Green Program at CDHS.  She has facilitated several projects including utilizing hydroponic vertical tower unit, fruit tree planting, growing vegetables in raised garden beds. Baker explained bedding plants are provided to students, produce harvested to be used in the CDHS foods classes or taken home by students.

Grant mentioned tomatoes, peppers, Swiss chard, spinach, pumpkins, herbs, brussell sprouts, lettuce, watermelon, and kale are grown in the raised garden beds in collaboration with the Green Team Club and with students from Williamstown Public School visiting the location for real world learning experiences.

Grant explained WPS teacher Susan MacDougall brings students from Kindergarten through Grade 3 over to the CDHS Market Garden area. Secondary students join the visiting elementary school students and guide them through the process of planting, weeding, and watering the growing plants. From a cross curricular point of view, subjects such as math and science are incorporated, using apples as an example, into the learning opportunities. Elementary students will watch as the apple buds develop and when the fruit is mature, apples can be sorted by size or colour, taste the different types of apples with the fruit utilized in other classes at WPS.

CDHS is an integral part of the community with Grant describing the collaboration between horticultural organizations such as Williamstown Green Thumbs and local garden centres such as Marlin Orchards will continue to enhance the learning experiences associated with the continued expansion of the school orchard, raised bed gardens and the geodesic dome when completed.

As the construction period of the geodesic dome continues, there will be opportunities for students and staff to collaborate on how this building will serve Char-Lan’s community. “I think it is a great opportunity for Char-Lan and the community,” commented Oliveira before continuing how the geodesic dome will serve as “another tool in our tool kit,” providing students with the experience of exploring real world learning.

More information on the geodesic domes can be found at

Char-Lan District High School is located in historic Williamstown, with the present building built in 1954 and a history dating back to the early 1900s.