CCA partners with Harrisburg University to offer brand-new Aquaponics Summer Camp

The camp provides students with real-world skills and knowledge to succeed in an emerging field


Commonwealth Charter Academy (CCA), in partnership with Harrisburg University, this week is hosting a new aquaponics camp at CCA’s aquaponics facility, AgWorks at CCA, for students entering grades 7-12. This camp provides students with hands-on experience in controlled-environment agriculture, crop and business planning, water testing, engineering and fluid dynamics, data analysis, STEM, food sciences, and food and laboratory safety.

AgWorks at CCA, a living, learning laboratory at CCA's Capital Campus in Harrisburg, is the largest public educational aquaponics facility in the country.

“What we’re looking to do during camp is to give students hands-on skills that are applicable to both traditional agriculture and controlled-environment agriculture,” said Samantha Johnson, CCA’s director of aquaponic programs. “We want our students to have the knowledge base for a very emergent field.”

As a K-12 public cyber charter school serving more than 9,500 Pennsylvania students, CCA encourages students to pursue their individual interests by providing a personalized, flexible education. For those interested in careers in aquaponics, CCA is committed to making sure all students have the ability to learn from AgWorks at CCA.

This week’s camp reflects that commitment, as students from CCA and the surrounding communities are exploring the many facets of controlled environment agriculture.

“We've been learning all about the different kinds of aquaponics,” said Alexis Boehmer, a camp participant and eighth-grade student at CCA. “We learned about how different lights work, how water will help the different plants grow. I don’t really have a favorite part yet because it’s all been fun!”

Aquaponics is a method of growing plants hydroponically using wastewater from aquaculture. AgWorks at CCA uses wastewater from koi and tilapia to grow fresh produce, such as lettuce, trees, microgreens and more inside the 6,100-square-foot facility.

Rachel Fogle, an assistant professor of biological sciences at Harrisburg University, is part of the joint team from CCA and the university operating the aquaponics camp.

“Aquaponics is a much more efficient growing method because it uses less water,” Fogle said. “It’s a platform that can be used in food deserts because it can be done on a very small scale, such as a single cart, or it can be as large and as vast as [the AgWorks at CCA] facility.”

The idea for this week’s camp began when CCA and Harrisburg University discovered a shared interest in aquaponics education. Both institutions have facilities in Harrisburg, and Harrisburg University is installing aquaponic technology. 

“A lot of STEM fields are promoted at Harrisburg University,” Johnson said. “We felt that partnership is very important for students who want to explore those interests.”

The commitment to partnership is reflected in the team of CCA staff, Harrisburg University professors and students overseeing the aquaponics camp.

Steven Berry, who studies environmental science and sustainability at Harrisburg University, is serving as a teaching assistant at the aquaponic camp.

“I just love helping out,” he said. “The students are all so enthusiastic about the work we’re doing. Camps like this give them opportunities I wish I had when I was their age.”

Posted in News Release
Tagged with agworks, student success, cca, commonwealth charter academy