Fairyland Elementary School is ironing out the final details as it prepares to begin installing a one-of-a-kind aquaponics system for its students.
The school began raising funds for the self-sustaining ecosystem in August 2016. Principal Jeremy Roerdink believes the unique lab will create STEM opportunities for students as they learn to manage the symbiotic environment, in which the plants will filter the water for the fish and the fish will provide food for the plants through excrement.
While Ridgeland High and Gilbert Elementary both have aquaponics systems, Roerdink said Fairyland's structure will set itself apart because it will float on the school's pond.
"To my knowledge, you won't find a floating greenhouse and aquaponics center anywhere," he said. "So the structure itself is what's very unique."
Following a capital campaign to raise $150,000 for the system that netted $125,000, the school has purchased the system's domed top from Pacific Dome Company, which works with companies like NASA and The North Face, for $75,000. The floating deck was purchased from Chattanooga Dock Builders for $18,000, with dock manufactering expected to be complete on Oct. 29 and installation taking place Nov. 1-8.
Roerdink said the goal is to have both the dome and dock installed by mid-December.
Most of the money raised was through grants and donations — like Rock City's $30,000 donation — with local residents pitching in $3,525, Roerdink said.
"The community has really embraced this vision," he said. "We had some big donors who really stepped up and really believed in what we're doing."
The remainder of the funds will be used for the plants and fish, as well as equipment that will measure temperature, oxygen and pH levels.
Before students start working with the system in March or April, teachers will spend a few months familiarizing themselves with the greenhouse.
"A lot of our teachers know what aquaponics is but [learning] how to effectively do that in the classroom is going to take some training," Roerdink said.
To ease the transition, the school's Parent Teacher Organization has hired an aquaponics coordinator to help teachers develop related lessons for students.
The part-time position was partially born out of concerns from teachers who were interested in implementing the system into their curriculum but unsure of what that would actually look like, the principal said.
"Any time you're dealing with change, it does create some challenges with what we're doing in the classroom," he explained. "We [hope to mitigate that] by supporting our teachers."
As of right now, the plan is to have teachers develop one lesson plan centered around aquaponics each week. Students from kindergarten to fifth grade would then visit the greenhouse once a week during the time allotted for science lessons.
Roerdink also plans to have the students grow strawberries and tomatoes in the greenhouse, which he hopes to begin selling around April or May. Though school officials are still working on the details, he said students might sell the produce to carpoolers picking up or dropping off children, or work with organizations like the Chattanooga Area Food Bank.
Email Myron Madden at email@example.com.