ST. GEORGE – The school year is almost over but that didn’t stop staff and students at Crimson View Elementary School from going “green” for science as they celebrated the official opening of their new greenhouse Wednesday afternoon.
Funded by a $46,000 STEMlink Grant awarded to the school by the Utah Department of Workforce Services and written by the school’s staff developer, Tiffany Porter, the greenhouse uses state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly methods to heat, cool and power the building as well as to nurture and grow the plants.
Crimson View Elementary is recognized as a school that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math; that is, a STEM school.
Already strong in areas of math and technology – the school has a one-to-one ratio of iPads to students, Porter said – the greenhouse was built to increase their efforts in the science and engineering curricula.
“Our first goal is: We hope to get kids excited about the STEM fields,” Crimson View Principal Nate Esplin said, “and get confident in those fields and know that they can succeed in those careers; and the greenhouse is one way we can implement that in our program.”
One of the most unique features of the greenhouse and the students’ favorite, Porter said, is the way in which plants in the greenhouse receive their nutrients and grow.
Crimson View’s greenhouse is equipped with four large fish tanks as well as several large, pebble filled tanks – in which the seeds are sprinkled – that are used in a process called aquaponics.
The Aquaponic Source website defines the cyclical process like this:
It is the marriage of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (the soil-less growing of plants) that grows fish and plants together in one integrated system. The fish waste provides an organic food source for the growing plants and the plants provide a natural filter for the water the fish live in.
Porter explained the process to Mrs. Rindlisbacher’s first grade class in more simple terms.
“The fish, they eat their breakfast and they eat their dinner and then they poo,” Porter said to the class, “and that’s what fertilizes the water and we use this water from the fish to fill up our tanks over here and it fills up with water and the plants get the fertilizer from the fish.”
Rindlisbacher’s class has been writing a book following the greenhouse’s progress from the time the school received the grant money in August of 2014 until its completion.
The greenhouse is also unique in that it is heated and cooled with geothermal energy; meaning the energy is generated and stored in the earth. A sign hanging in the greenhouse details the process of how the air is pulled from the greenhouse, circulated through pipes buried 4 feet underground and then blown back into the greenhouse cooling or heating the inside.
Additionally, electricity used to run the lights, fans and pumps for the greenhouse’s sytems is powered by solar energy.
“It’s fish growing plants without any dirt,” Ben Sorensen, one of the primary designers and builders of the greenhouse, said, “and then we use the ground to cool the greenhouse and we’ve got solar that is coming from the sun that’s running the electricity; so it is kind of a closed loop system.”
At the official ribbon cutting on Wednesday students had the opportunity to put the scientific method to work by measuring a small nectarine tree set to be nurtured in the greenhouse and then estimating, or predicting, how tall it would grow during the students’ three month summer break.
Students and staff were given tours of the greenhouse throughout the day Wednesday, which were met with excitement from both parties.
“Hopefully we will be able to do a lot of fun learning, science learning, in the greenhouse,” Esplin said. “They (the students) will be able to see a little bit more about the ecosystem, about how plants grow and why it is important to society in general.”
The STEMlink grant which funded the greenhouse also provided a weather station and science kits for the classrooms, Porter said.
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