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 | Valerie Barnes

Aquaponics is NOT an underwater symphony – St. Thomas More School Educates!

One thing I have learned from many years at St. Thomas More Catholic School is that we are never standing still. One of the newer hands-on additions to our ever-expanding C+STEM program is Aquaponics – the combination of aquaculture with hydroponics. Do you still not know what we are talking about? We teach students how to create a sustainable food source with minimal use of water (a resource that is becoming scarce) and no use of pesticides! It balances fish, worms, bacteria, plants and water to create a sustainable food source! This new program makes for a very engaging conversation and understanding of ecosystems that anticipates the future needs of our world.

Students in all grades were excited when we added 100 baby tilapia and red wiggler worms to the grow beds and fish tank. Our seventh-grade students began piloting this program in May, including teaching and mentoring our younger students. They love feeding the tilapia and testing the water for pH, nitrites, and Ammonia. Students log data, research the nitrification process and solve problems when tests are not in an acceptable range. They plant tomatoes, lettuce, spinach and basil by seed that St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank then harvests. Volunteers have shared how excited their clients are to receive fresh garden items. St. Thomas More School looks forward to providing lush produce throughout the winter months through our greenhouse. This program complements our school garden, and the produce our students grow each year goes to families in need! Families receive fresh, insecticide-free, sweet and delicious vegetables.

Aquaponics lends itself beautifully to STEM concepts, incorporating biology, chemistry, math and engineering into each lesson. Most importantly, students gain a deeper insight into and appreciation of God’s creation, the delicate balance of ecosystems surrounding us each day, and Pope Francis’ Laudato si’ challenge!