After raising $110,000, Fairyland Elementary is set to "break water" on an aquaponics system in March.
Aquaponics is a self-sustaining ecosystem where plants and fish grow together. The plants filter the water for the fish, and the fish provide food for the plants through excrement.
The school started a campaign to raise money for an aquaponics system and accompanying greenhouse in August 2016, and is just $40,000 short of the $150,000 goal.
Principal Jeremy Roerdink believes the unique lab will create STEAM opportunities for the students. STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) is being pushed in schools across the country and taking over the job market, Roerdink said. His goal is to expose Fairyland's students to STEAM at a younger age to better prepare them for their future job market.
"It's an environment for kids to learn, innovate and fail — yes, I used the word fail," he said. "We want the kids to learn through failure."
When a fish dies, the children will be encouraged to ask why. They will monitor pH and oxygen levels and propose theories for why levels increased or decreased, Roerdink explained.
Students will also be growing pesticide-free strawberries which will be sold to the community. The school's art teacher, Beth Bradford, will be working with the students to brand and sell the fruit. The money raised from sales will be used to give back to the community, as well as other possibilities, the extent of which is up to the children to decide, Roerdink said.
"When kids take ownership of things and you empower them, learning is fun," he said.
In 2012, Ridgeland High unveiled its own aquaponics lab, which the older students use to study growth rates and do water-quality experiments.
While Roerdink said the elementary school will not be pursuing such advanced studies, Ridgeland's teachers have helped the teachers at Fairyland brainstorm how to implement the greenhouse in their lessons. The teachers at Ridgeland even produced an informational video on aquaponics for their Fairyland cohorts.
The greenhouse will be available to the community — as is the opportunity to donate, Roerdink said. While most of the money raised was received through grants and donations, like Rock City's $30,000 donation, $3,525 has been donated from the community, he said.
"We're about to turn the corner and get this thing done," said Roerdink. "It's exciting."
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