PS 34 unveils new hydroponic STEM lab
by Benjamin Fang
Mar 06, 2018 | 3982 views | 0 0 comments | 209 209 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Fifth-grade student Victoria Jamrozek never really liked plants.

That changed when her school, PS 34 in Greenpoint, opened up its new STEM lab. The colorful classroom is equipped with hydroponic systems that allows plants and vegetables to grow without soil.

Students have been growing tomatoes, basil, cucumbers, peppers, kale and other plants using a mineral-based nutrient solution and sustainable methods.

When Jamrozek first walked into the lab, her mind changed completely. She couldn’t wait to start testing out all the new equipment. She even checks the pH levels each morning.

“My favorite part is that we get to harvest everything, and seeing how it grows,” she said. “It’s really cool.”

In addition to the new hydroponic systems, the lab also features STEM carts with laptops, a NAO robot and K’NEX building sets. All were on display last Thursday morning when students, parents and administrators at the Greenpoint school cut the ribbon to their new space.

The entire room renovation, which cost $250,000, was funded by Councilman Stephen Levin’s participatory budgeting process. The school community cast more than 400 votes two years ago to win the funding.

When parents, elected officials and guests walked in on Thursday, students took them on a tour of the hydroponic science lab. They showed off the tower garden, the vine crops and the nutrient trays, all of which use different systems to absorb nutrients and grow.

Third-grader Jex Perez, who took Assemblyman Joseph Lentol on the tour, said he likes that the hydroponic system has many advantages, including conserving water and being able to grow in every season.

“You control the weather,” he said. “You can keep it growing even in the winter.”

The lab is the latest addition to PS 34’s STEM program. Even before the former teacher’s room was converted, the school was already offering an education focused on sustainability.

PS 34 is also one of Greenpoint’s Eco-Schools, an initiative of the National Wildlife Federation to integrate environmental concepts into local school curriculums. The school has a sustainability coach, who works with teachers, staff, custodians and even the Department of Sanitation to make the school more green and sustainable.

Principal Carmen Asselta said when the idea to create a STEM lab in the school came up, the school community got behind it. The Parent-Teacher Association got parents and community members to vote for the project to receive funding.

“It took awhile, but we’re here today because of all of these components,” Asselta said. “We come together as a community because at the end of the day, it’s all for the children.”

Tina Wong, PS 34’s sustainability coach, said the lab adds to the school’s integrated STEM curriculum, which is taught through the lens of environmental education. Students are able to relate what they read and learn in a textbook to what they see and touch in the hands-on lab.

“It really helps make it come to life,” Wong said. “You can’t really beat that.”

Working with Jeanne Marshall, the school’s STEM teacher, Wong helped create a curriculum to teach sustainability from kindergarten to fifth grade. Based off NWF’s “Pathways to Sustainability” roadmap, the curriculum has a different focus for each grade.

Kindergarten students start off by cultivating a sense of joy and wonder, a prerequisite to learning about environmental stewardship.

“Before you learn about protecting, you have to learn how to care about something or love something,” Wong said.

First graders then go through the water, air and wildlife units, where they learn about pollution and how it affects the community. In the second grade, they learn about waste, energy and materials. The following year, they are introduced to hydroponics systems and growing food.

With all the content knowledge, fourth-graders then employ what they learned on school impact projects. Students look at waste, energy and water issues within the school, and create a project to address them.

In the fifth grade, their scope expands. The students start off by observing community issues, and later learn about global challenges like climate change and renewable energy.

“We try to equip them with this civic responsibility to the world,” Wong said. “They’re reaching back to what they’ve learned before. It builds up.”

By the time PS 34 students graduate, they will have learned about not just topics of environmental sustainability, but understand why it’s important and how to find solutions to complex local, national and global problems.

Wong, who has another year at the school, said she’s excited to see the progression of students at each grade.

“They learn so many things at such a young level,” Wong said. “And they’re having so much fun doing it.”
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