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CCA’s new Aquaponics Club allows students to conduct research, get hands-on career training

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    CCA’s new Aquaponics Club allows students to conduct research, get hands-on career training

    A greenhouse with plants.

    Agworks at CCA™ starts a new Aquaponics Club for students to get hands-on learning experiences in variety of career fields.

    Every CCA student has a chance to be a founding member of AgWorks at CCA™ and discover brand new research. It’s essentially a “choose your own adventure” as Samantha Johnson, director of aquaponic programs, coined it.

    AgWorks at CCA™ is a new aquaponics facility located at CCA’s Capital Campus in Harrisburg. This facility gives students the opportunity to get involved in aquaponics, hydroponics and aeroponics. Aquaponics is an agricultural method that uses fish waste to grow plants instead of soil.

    The aquaponics facility includes a population of fish and a number of plants. AgWorks at CCA™ houses tilapia and koi fish whose waste is filtered into plant beds to fertilize plants.

    Since many families want to know where their food comes from and what is in it, CCA feeds the fish with organic, non-GMO pellets. This also presents a learning opportunity for students to better understand what they are putting in their bodies.

    “We don’t use any harmful pesticides or toxins,” Johnson said. “We use organic food pellets for all the fish, that way they are as healthy as they can be and living their best life.”

    What is the Aquaponics Club?

    The Aquaponics Club was developed this year to show students what the AgWorks at CCA™ facility has to offer and how they can benefit from it – even if they don’t live nearby. AgWorks at CCA™ also includes three labs: a research and development, tissue culture and genetics lab.

    The club has four CCA teachers serving as advisers spread out between grades K-12: Brittany Shaffer (Grades K-5); Dreon Olivetti (Grades 6-8); and Stefanie Sinkaus and Kellie Tinna (Grades 9-12).

    AgWorks at CCA™ has a physical lab in Harrisburg as well as an AgWorks at CCA™ mobile lab that travels across the state to offer students additional hands-on learning opportunities.

    The club advisers will take students on virtual tours of the lab and set up cameras throughout the facility to aid in the learning process. Since club members will be spread across Pennsylvania, a dashboard was built to monitor plant growth and fertilizer levels in the facility.

    Students will have the opportunity to observe and track plant growth. They will be able to see how different types and amounts of light affect growth over time with the use of rulers and camera monitoring.

    The club meetings will be virtual and the lab itself has some great technology that will allow students to view and use the lab for experiments remotely, Sinkaus and Tinna said.

    Why did CCA create an Aquaponics Club?

    CCA wants to help students see aquaponics and how it can be used as a sustainable farming method. The goal of the club is to expand the way students think about farming. Ideally, by participating in the club, students will learn farming is not only practiced in a field setting, but it can also use technology integration.

    “Aquaponics allows students to receive training in a wide array of disciplines,” Johnson said. “System design, marketing, plumbing, chemistry, electrical work, data analysis and coding are just some of the careers that can come out of this lab.”

    “We also want them to learn where their food comes from and learn about the variables that affect plant growth, so they can gain the knowledge and confidence to grow their own plants if they wish,” Tinna said.

    Sinkaus, Tinna and the other advisers plan to work closely with Johnson as they continue to develop AgWorks at CCA™. They hope to host a few in-person club events.

    Students will see the lab and participate in aquaponics-related activities during the events, SInkaus and Tinna said. They will also meet students with similar interests, which is a nice social aspect of the club.

    Looking ahead

    With the Aquaponics Club, students have the chance to conduct research that has never been done. They are able to see the plant and fish life cycle and learn more about the variety of careers that can come from this field.

    Students can learn more about the Aquaponics Club by visiting the “Community” tab in edio or listening to the podcast about AgWorks at CCA™ on YouTube. If they already have an interest in aquaponics, they can email the club adviser for their grade level.


    Commonwealth Charter Academy


    December 12th, 2018


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