Students, teachers and school officials joined Councilman Costa Constantinides on Friday to cut the ribbon on the Astoria school’s two new hydroponic labs. The $160,000 investment will enhance learning about topics like ecology, food production, sustainability and climate change.
Constantinides allocated $2 million in last year’s budget to build or improve science labs in every school in his western Queens district. PS 122’s labs are the first of many to arrive. Hydroponics lab will also be brought to PS 70, PS 84 and IS 126.
“We’re learning about how ecosystems work, how healthy eating works, how growing works,” he said. “This is what we need to have more of in our schools.”
According to NY Sun Works, the citywide nonprofit that brings the labs to urban schools, each lab includes hydroponic growing systems, composting station, germination rack, and integrated pest management system to ensure it’s pesticide-free.
Hydroponics uses a mineral-based nutrient solution to nourish the plants without soil. It allows plants to grow using up to 90 percent less water than plants grown in soil.
Students at Ps 122 can grow as many as 108 plants. The greenhouse can grow up to 902 pounds of produce per year, including herbs, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and basil.
“This gives our children the ability to be critical thinkers,” said District 30 superintendent Philip Composto, “to be problem solvers as you go forward.”
Principal Anna Aprea said in an urban environment, students usually don’t have the opportunity to see how food is grown. By incorporating the lab into their “Living Environment” curriculum, students are taught using hands-on techniques.
The goal is for the next generation to be the stewards of the environment in the future.
“We hope from a young age, they’re becoming interested citizens in the global understanding of how food is made, taking care of the environment and sustainability,” Aprea said.
As part of the $160,000 investment, the school is also receiving 36 new laptops and digital microscopes.
Seventh grade student Mritika Rahman said the lab not only improves learning, it’s making the classroom brighter.
“It’s beautiful,” she said. “It brings a very sunny outlook to our classroom environment.”
Eighth-grader Alexia Dias said students from a city environment often don’t know where their foods come from. Hopefully, she said, they can learn not only through a textbook, but seeing it in real life.
“Instead of just learning about photosynthesis, we can really do a hands-on experiment,” Dias said. “That can really inspire a student to learn more about it.”
A budding scientist herself, Dias said she wants to be an astronomer or biologist one day.
That’s the type of aspiration Constantinides hopes to inspire. The councilman said sustainability is not only a major tenet of the work he’s doing in the City Council, passing laws to improve air quality and fight climate change, it’s also about educating students with the 21st century in mind.
“We add this with the technology, the new laptops, this makes science come to life,” he said.
An alumnus of PS 122 himself, Constantinides said he grew up in a three-story walk-up apartment, and never had a chance to get his hands in the dirt. With the new technology, he hopes these students’ experiences will be different.
“This a real opportunity to make those connections,” he said. “How we prepare our kids for a 21st century economy that’s science-based will be able to help them go forward and be better stewards.”