by Mackenzie Nichols
Teaching children about horticulture from a young age is important for the spread of “green collar jobs”— positions in ag and horticulture — but it’s also beneficial for other educational purposes, which is why the largest public school in Atlantic County, New Jersey, initiated two floriculture elective courses along with a successful in-house flower shop.
Lori Butrus, a teacher at Egg Harbor Township High School, said the curriculum and shop touch on many of the traditional high school subjects. Butrus’ class and the Eagle Greenery shop are open to all high schoolers, including students with special needs. She educates and employs 37 students throughout the day, with eight or nine kids working in the shop at any given time.
“When the students are washing buckets, I’m teaching them about why we do that in terms of science and bacteria,” she said. “I teach them communication skills and English, math when they are figuring out tax, social studies when we discuss where the boxes of flowers came from. I teach them about fine arts, business skills, critical thinking, and leadership. They grow with the business.”
Butrus grew up learning about plants and flowers while working on her family’s farm, Lynwood Gardens. In 1989, she started teaching math at Egg Harbor and soon noticed that some of her students, especially those with special needs, were averse to the curriculum. In 1990, Butrus wrote the curriculum for a floriculture class and brought it to the school’s administrators, who were behind the idea “100 percent.” The next year, Eagle Greenery was born along with a school store and bagel shop. The three in-school stores are together referred to as “Eagle Enterprises” and students are urged to apply for jobs at the establishments.
Since its opening, Eagle Greenery has moved to a larger space and now is a fully functioning flower shop, coordinating all of the boutonnieres and corsages for prom, hosting community floral contests and events such as the charitable Spring Flower Thing raffle (which benefits a rotating roster of local charities), and serving walk-in customers from around town and beyond. Administrative Professionals Week/Secretary’s Day is also big business for the student, with about 100 orders coming in.
“Everybody in the school comes in to smell the flowers, and go out the other door feeling happy,” Butrus said. “The whole school benefits, and the community benefits the most.”
Butrus said her students leave the shop with “knowledge and excitement” — and, potentially, a career path. Some of the students have even continued with floriculture after their graduation, working at AC Moore, Bobs Garden Center, and at a local florist. In addition, Butrus has seen non-verbal, special needs students thriving in the setting.
“There is a niche for everybody here,” Butrus said. “When the kids come in contact with flowers, they have a great time and they forget about day-to-day troubles. I wanted to do that for them.”
Read more about how high schools in Texas are folding floriculture into the curriculum, thanks to a program through the Texas State Florists’ Association. Then, read more about industry up-and-comers and programs designed to recruit young people into the industry in the September issue of Floral Management.
Mackenzie Nichols is a contributing writer for Floral Management.