Cultivating Future Innovators: Empowering Students through Aquaponics Education

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In the heart of Kenilworth Science and Technology Academy lies a program that not only cultivates plants but also nurtures the minds of its students, propelling them toward a future filled with scientific discovery and innovation. Kenilworth is one of only five schools in the state of Louisiana with an aquaponics lab, and it is here that hands-on learning meets cutting edge STEM education, and students’ curiosity blossoms into solutions for tomorrow’s challenges.

In an aquaponics system, fish waste provides nutrients for the plants, which absorb them for growth. The plants then purify the water, making it safe for the fish. This creates a self-sustaining ecosystem.

Kenilworth’s aquaponics program, which just concluded its third year, was developed through a collaboration between school administrators, the LSU STEM Pathways program, and local experts. It provides students with hands-on learning experiences integrating the various branches of science, including life science, biology, chemistry, environmental science, and more, says aquaponics teacher Merve Yildiz.

An expert helps set up the fish tanks, growing beds, and the connections between them. Once initial setup is complete, students take over, measuring the fish mass and adding them to the system. They keep a careful eye on the fish weight, observing whether they are growing or having any challenges.

The students also meticulously clean the tank and observe strict rules, including wearing masks and using hand sanitizer, to maintain the biosecurity of their lab. They keep a close eye on the water’s pH level and work to rid the lab of any stressors that could affect the fish.

“It is so hands-on,” Yildiz says. “Students come into the classroom with no idea about pH but when they start to test the water quality, they learn what pH is and how it works.”

It’s hard work, but the students are relaxed and don’t complain, Yildiz says. They come into the lab each day asking to see the fish and wanting to be the first to feed them. “This is a good observation for me to see that my students are highly engaged with the system,” she says.

What sets the aquaponics program apart is not just its rarity, but its impact. With only a handful of schools in the state boasting such a facility, Kenilworth’s students are being equipped with the skills and knowledge that set them apart in an ever-evolving world.

Beyond the technical skills, they are learning a sense of responsibility, stewardship, and resilience. While nurturing the ecosystem within their aquaponics lab, they are also cultivating empathy, collaboration, and problem-solving skills that are essential for success in any field.

“In the beginning, we (teachers) are learning with the students and having the same challenges and experiences, but when we start to understand our failures, it becomes easier for us to solve problems,” Yildiz says.

Yildiz highly recommends the curriculum and would like to expand to the elementary level with mini systems. “More than anything, students enjoy this environment because it is outside of the traditional classroom setting,” she says.

To learn more about Kenilworth Science and Technology Academy and the other programs that are part of its STEM-focused curriculum, visit kenilworthacademy.org. The school is currently accepting applications until July 31 for kindergarten through 8th grade.