Aquaponics lab piques students’ interest in science

At first glance, room 301 looks like any other door to a classroom, but it’s actually an entrance to a large aquaponics lab at Willingboro High School. It’s called Project Wakanda.

“This is an interactive lab for students to learn aquaponics, which is the combination of raising fish and growing plants all in one system,” said Gary Nelson, program director of Making Visions Possible at Willingboro High School.

It’s all part of the state-sponsored Making Visions Possible initiative, a school-based youth service program.

“The waste from the fish tank goes to the filter. The filter goes to the grow beds. The plants that are sitting on the grow beds take all the nutrients and clean the water and send it right back to the fish. They’re growing kale, spinach, Swiss chard, collard greens,” Nelson said.

The 30 students who run the lab say it’s piqued their interest in pursuing STEM careers.

“When the idea was first introduced to me I found it kind of weird because no one thinks about fish poop going into their food, it’s not intriguing at all. But then when you think about the health benefits and stuff and it’s healthier then getting processed foods,” said freshman Naviana Anthony.

“When I first learned about it I thought it was crazy. I was like, ‘You can’t grow vegetables with water.’ When I actually saw it, I thought it was great idea and that we can help our school because this is bigger than just our school,” said freshman Thomas Ford.

“Each little component contributes to something bigger, you know. And then the outcome is just amazing and beautiful. All of us kids, we came together and we were having fun while doing it. All the adults kind of just stepped back and let us do our thing,” said Geena Armstrong, a freshman at the high school.

“Just taking time and teaching children like the correct way to do it without any harmful hormones in their food and everything. I think this is what we need,” said senior Aleah Levister-Long.

The lessons extend beyond the classroom. Nelson says students are also learning about community service, mental health and business through the program.

“Students are learning mindfulness at the same time as they’re learning about careers and green technology. So all these transferable skills students are learning and being able to use,” Nelson said. “In terms of the business aspect, we want to be able to provide the students with the business training to be able to provide this to local companies.”

Nelson says they’re working with the school to include time in the lab as part of the science curriculum. He says he plans to expand the program to another classroom by using the profits made from selling fish and produce to local companies.