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Monday, 14 January 2013 01:19

CCA Academy Science Comes Alive -- Literally!

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In a school cafeteria in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood, a pacu patrols the perimeter of a 125-gallon fish tank. He’s not beautiful in the way that tropical fish often are, but he is well-loved by students and staff alike. He goes by the name Bubba.

Why is he here in the cafeteria?

Bubba is part of the living experiment students and teachers are conducting at CCA Academy in North Lawndale, and he is an example of how the school is bringing science to life! He is an integral part of CCA’s aquaponics lab-- an integrated system combining hydroponics and aquaculture the school has developed to explore green technology, organic growing techniques, the sustainability of urban farming, and the importance of increased consumption of fresh vegetables in a healthy diet.

Far too many schools in Chicago rely on textbooks to provide the bulk of science education in the classroom, but at CCA Academy, the aquaponics lab provides hands-on experiences in doing the work of scientists. Making hypotheses, designing experiments, collecting data and analyzing the results provide the basis for this innovative project.

In 2011, starting with second-hand aquarium tanks and a few guppies, CCA Academy constructed a wall of aquariums and grow beds. As news of the project spread, interested individuals and businesses began to donate items and labor. A 525-gallon tank donated by Blue Planet is home to over 400 tilapia fi ngerlings. It is attached to grow beds with fl ow and fi lter systems that connect the component parts to link tanks and beds together. Water from the 525-gallon tank, as well as two other tanks stocked with tilapia, is fi ltered through a system that breaks down poisonous ammonia into nitrogen, an essential nutrient in producing rich growing soil. In addition, CCA Academy has developed vermiculture and composting practices to reduce waste and increase productivity.

CCA Academy has partnered with Chicago State University (CSU) and the Sweetwater Foundation to develop the aquaponics systems. Both CSU and the Sweetwater Foundation have provided training for staff and students in aquaculture and sustainability. Students are also mentored by university staff who volunteer with the CSU aquaponics program.

Students interact on a daily basis with the aquaponics system, recording pH levels in the water, tracking the growth of their lettuce and basil crops, cleaning system elements, and recording their results. The students harvest their lettuce and basil about every two to three weeks and their fi sh every nine or ten months.

When the ground thaws and the weather is suitable, students will expand their “farm” by planting vegetables in outdoor gardens. CCA Academy Executive Director/Principal, Dr. Myra Sampson, has been working closely with the ward leadership to identify abandoned lots in the neighborhood that can be repurposed to become community gardens and extensions of the work in the aquaponics lab. The gardens will also be used as a teaching tool to communicate the importance of healthy living in this age of rising obesity rates and food deserts.

The students have become ambassadors to spread the word about maintaining a healthy diet with fresh fruits, vegetables, and green technology. They have made public presentations at events in the community and across the city. Students represented CCA Academy at the Chicago Green Festival which was held at Navy Pier. During the 2011-2012 school year, a team of CCA Academy students won first place in the YCCS STEM competition. Each student received an Android tablet and the school received a $5,000 prize to support their science program. CCA Academy students also made presentations at Chicago State University and Northeastern Illinois University. Four students from the school hosted an information booth at the Alternative Schools Network’s “Fall into Fitness: Health & Wellness Expo,” where visitors crowded the students’ booth with questions about their project. CCA Academy’s aquaponics program has been recognized in several publications including Mother Jones magazine, Model D magazine, and the Garfi eld-Lawndale Voice.

Read 6313 times Last modified on Sunday, 08 November 2015 11:21