What started in October with one tray of basil has grown into a hydroponics greenhouse, now ripe with fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, basil and parsley.
Staff and students at PS 349 in Jamaica, Queens, gathered at a ribbon-cutting event on April 9 to celebrate the successful first year of their hydroponics lab and thank those who supported the project.
“The most exciting part is showing it to everyone,” said one of the students who helped lead the presentation and tour. The students proudly shared their homemade pesto with guests, in the same way they occasionally share the harvest with their families. Being able to bring home what they have grown is “what they enjoy most,” said Chapter Leader Farrah Padro.
“They also take pride in their accomplishments as leaders,” she said.
The students — or “plant scientists” — shared a video documenting their experience in the hydroponics lab, which uses “rockwool,” a growing medium made from rocks instead of soil. Working together, the students observed plant growth and used different growing systems to control water and nutrient dispersal.
Sheena Mathew, who started the project with fellow science teacher Amy Schier, says working in a lab “offers far more entry points for students to grasp information than a textbook does.” She says “students are way more engaged and intrigued and ask deeper questions.”
Mathew and Schier created the hydroponics lab with the help of the New York Sun Works program, a nonprofit organization that provides training and growing equipment to set up hydroponics greenhouses.
PS 349, also known as the Magnet School for Leadership and Innovation through STEAM, opened in 2015, and Leslie Brown, the school’s magnet coordinator, says the greenhouse reflects the school’s goals of creating “rich experiences” and “promoting health and wellness.”
As students learn to appreciate plant life and how crops are grown, Mathew says, they gain a better understanding of how environmental changes directly affect their own diet as well as the communities and farms around them.
Hydroponics introduces students “to the many possibilities technology offers that can help us adapt to our environment and find solutions to environmental issues,” said Mathew.
“A hydroponics lab really opens up doors for a scientific view, a hands-on learning experience,” said Padro. Interacting with the plants at all stages, she said, allows the students to “take ownership” of the growing process.