A Growing Opportunity

Swiss chard. Bok choi. Lettuce. Fresh herbs. These aren’t typical kid-favorite foods. But get kids involved in the growing process, and suddenly they’re not only excited about them, they’re eating them.

That’s what special education teacher Kathleen Schultz is making happen in her Lewton Elementary School classroom in Lansing.

With the help of an $8,000 grant from the Capital Region Community Foundation, what started as a garden club on one strip of dirt beneath her classroom window has grown into four large, hydroponic tower gardens inside her classroom.

Walk into Schultz’s room, and it’s like stepping into a sunny spring day. Everything is bright, green and fresh. Healthy, robust plants spill out of four growing towers, reaching toward the panels of grow lights

“This project promotes a different way of learning and gives students the opportunity to apply what they have learned in a hands-on way, giving them an up-and-moving educational experience,” Schultz said.

 

This project promotes a different way of learning and gives students the opportunity to apply what they have learned in a hands-on way, giving them an up-and-moving educational experience."

— Kathleen Schultz, teacher

Lewton student

Hydroponic gardening allows for several controllable factors. It offers an endless growing season and tremendous customization — you can grow anything and adjust the nutrients in the water to adjust the taste of the vegetables.

It takes up far less space that an in-ground garden, and the lighting system can be put on a timer, so school vacations and long weekends don’t require someone to care for the plants. All are ideal conditions for growing in a classroom environment where no one is around at night or on weekends.

Another bonus is an accelerated growing season. Lettuce typically takes 60 days to go from seed to harvest; with hydroponics, it takes 30 days.

Lewton’s hydroponic garden farm-to-school project allowed Schultz to expand her garden to give students access to fresh, highly nutritious vegetables to supplement the federal food program currently in place in the school, which provides mostly prepackaged foods.

And the benefits just keep piling up. The project addresses a number of core science objectives, giving students meaning to what they already were learning in their classrooms. Biology, chemistry, physical science and environmental science concepts can be taught using hydroponics. The hands-on learning increases their engagement and provides much-needed relevancy for the kids.

A few other school districts in Michigan have hydroponics programs, but this is the first in the Lansing School District.

And the ultimate benefit? “Students get to eat what they’ve grown,” Schultz said.

 

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