Dressed in crisp, white lab coats, students gave tours of the new science lab at MS 484 in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, on March 13 and had the opportunity to see the hydroponic growing systems they had been studying in action.
“They felt really special and like professional scientists,” said English teacher Kareen Francis, the UFT chapter leader.
Hydroponics uses nutrient-rich water solutions without soil. While the grand opening marked the first time the students had used the science lab, lettuce and herbs were already grow-ing inside a Farmshelf, a hydroponic indoor farm resembling a bookcase stocked with nutrient-filled water, and an aquaponic garden, a system that uses nutrients from waste that has accumulated in a fish tank.
The lab will help provide the cafeteria with vegetables such as cucumber and cabbage for both MS 484 and co-located PS 12.
Science teacher Omotayo Olowoyo said his students researched growing systems using textbooks and online resources. “Now they actually have a feel for carrying out different investigations and having their own hands on the equipment,” he said.
The project, ongoing since the 2016–17 school year, faced challenges that included acquiring enough fund-ing and completing the mandatory inspections. Construction began in February 2019, and the lab opened on the last day before schools shut down due to the coronavirus crisis.
Math teacher Joseph Anderson said the lab will serve an important function. “It will expose our students, so by the time they get to high school they can be familiar with science lab activities,” he said. “In addition, it will help prepare them for the science Regents.”
MS 484 offers high school credit for Living Environment and Earth Science courses.
Francis said the idea for the lab came from Michele Luard, the school’s principal and a former science teacher. “Her vision is that students will pursue careers in science where minorities are underrepresented,” the chapter leader said. “If they’re not exposed to it, they can’t dream of it.”
Olowoyo said the lab will empower his students. “We do our own part to instruct them, but we want them to take ownership of their own learning,” Olowoyo said. “When they do their experiments, they’ll be able to come up with their own conclusions.”