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GREENING UP the Holidays With a Little Help From the Kids

December 7th, 2008

Meryl Ann Butler

Mr. Danny and kids making paper


Can purchasing children’s handmade paper cards or soaps for holiday gifts, change your world? You betcha.

In an economy fraught with fears, that is an investment that can’t lose.

The kids, staff and parents at the very green, Salem, Massachusetts, Greenhouse School—named for the original function of the building—have been quietly plugging away, turning recycled waste paper into beautiful handmade items: cards, bookmarks, invitations, gift tags, journals, ornaments, and decorative wrappers for the school’s aromatic handmade soaps.

Handmade paper cards

Part science project, part recycling, part fundraising, the idea bloomed more than a decade ago. Grinding up old paper to repurpose into beautiful new cards is just one of the many ways this school turns trash into treasure. The handmade cards (a bargain at $4 each; $15/pack of five) are each uniquely speckled with hints of light yellows, greens, and blues on solid-colored backgrounds including muted lime green, sunflower yellow, and salmon pink.

"At one point we were selling these cards in shops from Alaska to Maine to Florida," the school’s director, Daniel P. Welch, says. Even a restauranteur in Virginia comissioned a set of menu covers made from the handmade paper. "There was a neat little store in Boston, where our cards were sitting next to hand carved items being sold for thousands of dollars. It was quite a rush," adds Welch.

But the real goal is to teach the kids about sustainable production issues while raising a little money for the school. The school is again looking to market the cards in upscale shops, and they have a catalog available at http://www.danielpwelch.com/ghs-catalog/

Danny and Julia

For 25 years, Salem’s quirky but charming Greenhouse School has been changing the notion of what childhood education ought to be.

An alternative school rooted in the tradition of experimental programs, it is currently operated by an inspired couple: Welch, a second generation educational visionary, musician, and multilingual Harvard graduate, and his wife, artist Julia Nambalirwa-Lugudde, a native of Uganda who brings an exciting global perspective to the educational offerings.

Their goal is to provide students with an education that is filled with exciting, real life experiences that teach critical thinking, instill problem-solving skills, and inspire excellence and creativity. The school was founded in 1983 by Welch’s mother, Patricia Jennings-Welch, who distilled her vision from an eclectic mix of Piaget, Montessori, Dewey, Vygotsky, Bruner, Gardner, and her own philosophies.

The school's famous flags.

Unlike the bulk of the high-tuitioned, private school movement, the Greenhouse School has chosen to ground itself in the power of the “now,” taking its cues from the local community and current events. Greenhouse serves a culturally and economically diverse range of students from preschool to eighth grade, including many from low-income families.

The school’s substantial cultural diversity is honored by a flock of flags flying from the roof: Each of the countries of origin of students, staff and family is honored with a flag. Because there isn’t enough room on the roof to fly all 50 flags at once, they must be flown in rotation.

The Nnabagereka (Queen) of Buganda on her
visit to the school

Over the years, these kids have reaped the benefits of a truly interactive education, by producing their own educational TV show for a local cable station, hosting international royalty, annually planting, tending and harvesting a garden, and making quilts for Katrina relief projects and winning in art exhibitions.

While the school’s year-round, full-day educational program offers a schedule that generously meets the needs of working parents, the innovative after-school program content is what draws the excited participation of kids from other school systems.

The kids even staged their own four-day Olympic games festival, complete with stadium, parade of nations, and flame. Of course, having a heated, in-ground pool on campus, helped.

In 2005, the students also developed fundraising activities for the tsunami survivors, which instilled a sense of global citizenship while it increased involvement in both the local and world arenas. This project was chronicled in the media, enhancing the ripple effect of their humanitarian efforts by inspiring others to offer aid to the tsunami survivors as well.

The school’s vision is to become a model of energy self-sufficiency, living more closely attuned to their green values, by installing an innovative new type of passive solar panel. Not only would students enjoy the benefit of a more healthy and ecologically sound environment, but they would have the opportunity to live the vision of sustainability and gain significant real world experience in the various facets of the green construction trades, as part of their schooling.

Greenhouse School Gold Medal art winner

In addition, the school has been experimenting with biofuels for supplemental heating as well as looking for an old diesel bus to convert to run on vegetable oil.

Like the Little Engine That Could, this little school seems to continually be huffing and puffing to stay on top of the inclines, depending not on huge tuitions for its support, but filling in the gaps with auctions, fundraisers, and sales of arts and crafts to keep their educational vision afloat.

Greenhouse School 2008 Pentel Winners

The school is currently working hard to meet a matching grant challenge of $15,000 for purchasing much-needed supplies. Now that’s a lot of handmade paper and soaps!

In addition, Nambalirwa-Lugudde has developed a line of charming, one-of-a-kind critters handmade from recycled sweaters. Sales help support the school.

Or, consider a gift of a Peace Bird, lovingly made from recycled tissue papers, wire, glue and light!

Julia's adorable critters made
from recycled sweaters

Somebody on your gift list would be thrilled with a gift from the heart of the Greenhouse, so do a little shopping. If you can, consider throwing in a little donation born of the holiday spirit, and consider it a very green investment in a slice of America’s youth.

To paraphrase a popular bumper sticker:
“When the children lead, the grownups will follow.

The Greenhouse School is located at145 Loring Avenue, Salem, MA zip. Phone: 978.745.4549 For catalogue of gift items:


Tissue paper Peace Bird

All photos courtesy The Greenhouse School.

Links just added below, as per Welch's comment:




www.merylannbutler.com Meryl Ann Butler is an artist, author and educator who counts First Lady Dolley Payne Todd Madison as well as two signers of the Articles of Confederation among her ancestors. Mary Ball, mother of George Washington is in the ancestral lineage of Butler's great grandmother, Blanche Ball. Grateful to know that the blood of America's founding mothers and fathers runs in her veins, Butler has been newly filled with matriotism as a direct result of the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. Lest she appear too uppity, it should be revealed that she also has family ties to James Butler Hickok, better known as Wild Bill. Butler has been actively engaged in utilizing the arts as stepping-stones toward joy-filled enlightenment for the past two decades. A native of NYC, her response to 9-11 was to pen an invitation to healing through creativity, entitled, "90-Minute Quilts: 15+ Projects You Can Stitch in an Afternoon" (Krause 2006). They don't call quilts "comforters" for nothing! www.90minutequilts.com Butler was faculty advisor for "The Love for All Mankind/Anti-Apartheid Quilt" project at ENMU (1993), now in the collection of the Hon. Nelson Mandela. As Arts Advisor for the Center for Improving U.S.- Soviet Relations (CIUSSR) Baltimore, MD; her activities included the "First U.S.-Soviet Childrens' Peace Quilt Exchange" (1987-88), an historic project chronicled in the media of both countries. Citizen diplomacy trips to the U.S.S.R. in 1987 and 1988 included lectures and presentations to fashion designers, craftspeople and artists in Odessa, Moscow, Kiev and St.Petersburg, in which she focused on the topic of creating global peace through international art exchanges. Butler is the proud mother of a daughter and seven stepchildren (all grown), and a passel o' grand younguns. It is to these new generations that she dedicates her political activism.

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