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High School Students Build Hydroponics Garden to Teach and Feed

A few Peters Township High School juniors dug deep into a new project to teach Pleasant Valley Elementary students and feed its faculty.

Disney World—a place of imagination. It makes total sense that it would spark ideas among intelligent, envisioning students.

In this case, it was Epcot.

juniors Cody Ondos and Austin Chappell left Epcot with newfound curiosity after visiting its hydroponics garden.

“Individually, over the summer we both visited Epcot and saw its hydroponics system,” said Ondos. “Without soil, we thought it was cool and efficient. We researched online to see if we could get ourselves a small system. We found a place in Cranberry and soon after it was installed at .”

High school counselor Judy Alexander said the elementary students, kindergarten through third grades, were quite interested as soon as the garden was installed.

“They were pressing their faces up against the room's big glass window saying, ‘What is that?!’” she said.  

The boys put one seed in each of the 60 cups the day before the district's winter break, then returned nearly two weeks later to find lettuce.

“The Pleasant Valley kids’ reactions was almost identical to ours—amazed,” said Chappell.

“After seeing the small sprouts emerge from the clay pellets surrounding the seed just days before break, we had no idea we would return to a whole garden of nearly fully-grown lettuce.”

Both Chappell and Ondos maintain the garden—they visit the school every seven days.

“We empty the system and put new nutrients in,” said Ondos. “On Monday, we emptied it, recycled the water, added new water, new nutrients and harvested the lettuce.”

The Pleasant Valley faculty was served the lettuce at a luncheon on Tuesday.

The pair chose PV for the garden's space.

“We hope to find another location where this garden will prosper, either in another school or at the public library,” said Chappell. “We will just have to wait and see.”

And, they don’t plan to stop there.

“Our next project that we have planned is actually an outdoor classroom,” he said. “We hope to incorporate some of the skills we have learned through this system with the design of it landscape-wise.”

Chappell and Ondos visited PV last Friday, where the students were split into three groups and the boys taught them about hydroponic gardening.

Alexander said she hopes to donate some of the lettuce to local food kitchens, and in the spring, grow flowers.

She said both Nancy Barley—the teacher in charge of the garden—and principal Mike Fisher were very wonderful and "so wonderful" to Ondos and Chappell.

“The world is their oyster,” she said, praising her students.

“Our hope for the garden is to be able to row new plants and to make it a learning experience for both us and the kids,” said Chappell. “We want to pass the responsibility of the garden onto the students since we only have one year left in the district.”

Ondos agreed.

Ondos is currently doing an apprenticeship at Carnegie Mellon for green design, is involved in the ACE program and on the design team for the future remodeling of the high school, among other endeavours. 

Chappell is involved in varsity tennis, Student Activists for the Environment (SAFE), marching band, NHS, and a member of the German Club. He also contributes hockey photos to Patch.

Editor's Note: Matt Girouard also contributed to the garden project.

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