New Middle School Permaculture Class Spreads Awareness about the Ecosystem Lorelei C.e. and Karalim C.

In late spring of 2022, Upper School Art Teacher and Permaculture Coordinator Mr. David Prince and STEAMWorks Design Studio Coordinator Mr. Mick Lorusso removed a large patch of grass behind the Mudd Building for the 7th Grade Soil Unit. This empty part of campus would soon become a thriving ecosystem for plants, animals, and bugs.

The following school year, the Upper School launched a new permaculture class that would revolve around the newly installed garden, giving students the opportunity to learn about how humans and ecosystems work together to improve the future. The class quickly rose to popularity among students.

“The kids that were in the Upper School Permaculture class were so enthusiastic about it,” Math and Computer Science Teacher Mr. Dan Calmeyer said.

It was the students’ passion that inspired Mr. Lorusso and Mr. Prince to create the Permaculture elective for Middle School, where they would find similar enthusiasm amongst Middle School students. Improving the class and preparing it for the Middle School was a difficult endeavor over this past summer.

And so, after their hard work, in the 2023–2024 school year, a new elective was added to the Middle School, which gave students the opportunity to further learn about ecosystems and how they could help.

Mr. Lorusso helping students (PC: Lorelei CE)

“We had to start somewhere. Middle School has electives available, and we thought that it was a good opportunity to offer permaculture outside of Upper School,” Mr. Lorusso said.

Compared to other classes, the Permaculture elective is a hands-on class, which is part of the appeal for students. The Upper and Middle School classes are both pretty similar. However, the Upper School students have more ownership in terms of projects and the ability to spread awareness by selling merch and talking at assemblies. Although there are lectures, most of the time is spent working in the garden.

“My favorite [aspect] of Permaculture is that it’s not just a sit-down class, unlike most of my other classes,” Catherine P. ’28 said.
Mr. Lorusso helping 8th grader Michelle X. with a project for the garden (PC: Lorelei CE) and Students working on harvesting yams for Yam Day (PC: Lorelei CE)

Daily activities consist of weeding and working on the water irrigation system. Soledad B., an 8th grader in the Permaculture elective, looks forward to the future field trips the class will be taking to local gardens around Pasadena. She also hopes that Permaculture and Rocketry (another middle school elective) will work on a project together.

Sara K., a 7th grader currently enrolled in the class, appreciates the community that’s been established in the class. She also enjoys being around 8th graders and finds that engaging with them makes them seem less intimidating.

Sara has also found a connection between permaculture and 7th grade Life Science, which is just the kind of interdisciplinary connection Mr. Lorusso and Mr. Prince want to inspire.

Both Mr. Prince and Mr. Lorusso come from interdisciplinary backgrounds and believe that permaculture is a mix of history, science, design, engineering and art. They have found many connections between different aspects of our ecosystem.

Gnocchi made out of yams from the garden (made by Michelle) (PC: Lorelei CE)

“The Permaculture Garden is all about looking at the culture and relationships,” Mr. Prince said.

Mr. Lorusso and Mr. Prince have always been intrigued in how ecosystems work. Mr. Lorusso grew up on a farm in Colorado, which was home to animals like llamas, goats, horses, ducks and cats. Similarly, Mr. Prince’s grandfather was a farmer, and he had always been interested in ecology.