Goin' fishin'

West Liberty High School gets hydroponics grant


West Liberty High School will be going into the fish market education business next school year.

Learning the school won an Iowa Governor’s STEM (Science Technology, Engineering & Math) Advisory Council grant, first year high school science teacher Andrea Martinez will bring Hydroponics to the school’s biology classes in the next school year.

“We hope to reach 100-plus students,” said Martinez, who said there may also be a connection to education in agriculture classes with the program and said she’ll also involve some experiments as part of the school’s science club, using different kinds of plants.

The Ioponics/Aquaponics Grant will help the school get a full ioponics system that consists of all the materials needed to start a self-sufficient ioponics system including a 50-gallon aquarium, Tilapia fish, plants and all the hardware. Martinez says she will attend a half-day of training at Wartburg College as part of the program and says her substitute teacher and even travel expenses are covered by the grant.

“I’m looking forward to getting this started and maybe teaming with our FFA and (advisor) Zach Morris to show this interesting and self-sustaining farming method (to students),” Martinez said, noting the tank will be built in the rear of her classroom and will stand about six feet tall.

The instructor, who is in her 17th year of teaching, says Tilapia is one of the best fish to begin a new program. “I know they can get rather large, but I hope to harvest them as they do and maybe team with the Family and Consumer Science Teacher and she can cook them (for the students),” Martinez said, pointing out there are all kinds of applications that can be used in instituting the program.

Martinez developed an interest in Hydroponics at her last school, WACO High School in Wayland, building a small system out of PVC pipe and utilizing a small aquarium. “I took the kids there on a field trip to Kirkwood College in Cedar Rapids because they have a large AuquPonics system in their greenhouse,” she said.

“Kirkwood grows all their salad greens and fish for the restaurant at the Hotel hydroponically. I was intrigued, so we built one in our class room.,” Martinez said, noting they had “some mixed results.”

As a 4-H leader, the teacher saw the grant opportunity through the Governor's STEM council and “thought I would apply,” giving credit to peer Melia Larson, who helped write the grant.

“I wouldn't say it was lengthy – just time consuming to track down our demographics and numbers that they wanted,” she said, noting the goal of the council is to get a system into a least one high school in every county in Iowa.

Martinez says she hopes to build the unit this summer so it can be ready “by the time school rolls around in August.”

Through legislative appropriation, the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council is able to offer exemplary STEM programs throughout the state. The STEM Scale-Up Program has demonstrated success in increasing student interest and achievement in STEM across all demographics.

Through a rigorous review process, the STEM Council selected 12 programs to be offered on the 2021-22 STEM Scale-Up Program menu to provide high-quality STEM education offerings to schools, after-school programs and other settings for grades pre-K through 12.

The programs range from building robots and coding programs to conducting agricultural field experiences and learning about STEM careers. All went through a rigorous review process at both the national and state level, demonstrating an appeal to diverse youth, success in improving academic performance, evidence of integrating STEM concepts, development of school-business-community partnerships and sustainability beyond STEM Council financial support.