BY AMANDA MOSES
For almost one year, students at the Abe Stark Primary School 346 have been enjoying and learning important life cycle lessons in their aquaponic garden classroom/lab. The lab provides unique indoor gardening experiences incorporating lessons from the Common Core Curriculum with natural science.
The school made history when it became the first New York City elementary public school to establish an aquaponic garden classroom/lab, which was made possible with a $10,000 grant from the eBay Foundation given to the Spring Creek Recreational Fund (SCRF) to help expand its urban garden classroom program. “The lab has helped the students learn, explore and understand plant and fish growth on a micro level,” said Environmental Instructor Randy Cameron, Jr.
Three days a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday), Cameron instructs second through fourth graders about the symbiotic relationship between plants and aquatic life. “The students also learn about the difference in soil operations; fertilized soil, hydroponics (using water with liquid fertilizer) and aquaponics (using fish waste to fertilize soil),” he said. Recently, the lab received an order of Blue Nile Tilapia fish, which are one of the oldest farmed fish on earth. When the guppies grow to at least four inches, their waste will be recycled and used as fertilizer for the plants in the lab.
During a recent lesson with a fourth grade class, Cameron explained to students that plants should be treated with the same care and love as house pets. “Plants have three stages: the sprout, vegetative and bloom/ fruition (when the plant is ripe and ready to be harvested),” he announced, “Now who’s ready to do some planting?”
The students beamed with excitement and split into seven groups. Each group was given small pots and plant starter kits (compacted pellets of dirt). After watering their soil, so that it would create a viable environment for the seeds, the students prepared to plant their seeds of lettuce, cilantro, hot peppers and basil. “A lot of these seeds are as tiny as an ant’s toe, but one seed can make one big head of lettuce,” he said.
At the end of the lesson, the group made several observation notes in their scientific journals. Cameron believes the lab helps students understand the process of photosynthesis, and by using microscopes and magnifying glasses, students also study the different parts of plants. Each participating class has a role in the planting process. For example, after the fourth grade class planted the seeds, a group of third graders transferred the plants to the hydroponic soil fertilization system during their lesson.
“The lab is a wonderful hands on experience for students,” said Cameron.