Garden teaching Raymond Terrace Public School students lifelong lessons

LEARNING: Raymond Terrace Public School Year 6 students with the aquaponics system in the garden. Pictured is (front) Elliott Rowe, Gurkiat Singh, Brock Bailey, (back) Shaylynn Hyde, Ayla Shedden, Latayiah Swain, Makybe Hannon, Georgia Ditton, Kaylee Blundell and Alby Rowe.
LEARNING: Raymond Terrace Public School Year 6 students with the aquaponics system in the garden. Pictured is (front) Elliott Rowe, Gurkiat Singh, Brock Bailey, (back) Shaylynn Hyde, Ayla Shedden, Latayiah Swain, Makybe Hannon, Georgia Ditton, Kaylee Blundell and Alby Rowe.

A grant used to expand Raymond Terrace Public School's garden to include an aquaponics system is producing a wide range of educational benefits.

The Year 6 students in charge of the maintenance, health and outcomes of the aquaponics system are all too eager to answer questions about how they are using fish and aquaculture plus hydroponics to grow plants without soil.

They are also eager to talk about the mathematics and scientific processes involved, such as the nitrogen cycle or water testing, the community connections they have formed with butchers in Raymond Terrace who use the parsley they produce and how they are encouraging their parents to help them grow food plants at home.

"My favourite thing about aquaponics is watching the plants grow in different ways, rather than soil," student Shaylynn Hyde said.

"What I find really interesting about the aquaponics system is to learn how plants turn nitrite to nitrate," Makybe Hannon said.

"I'm very interested in aquaponics," Georgia Ditton said. "We have a big garden at home and beehives. This builds on an interest I already have."

"Inspired by our aquaponics system I convinced my parents to introduce a insect hotel to our garden at home," Kaylee Blundell, school captain, said.

Brothers Alby and Elliott Rowe also convinced their parents to plant fruit trees at their home.

Raymond Terrace Public School Year 6 students and school captains Gurkiat Singh and Kaylee Blundell in the garden. Pictures: Ellie-Marie Watts

Raymond Terrace Public School Year 6 students and school captains Gurkiat Singh and Kaylee Blundell in the garden. Pictures: Ellie-Marie Watts

The aquaponics system is a feature of the existing garden at the school. A $7000 sustainable schools grant has allowed Raymond Terrace public to scale up its aquaponics system and expand the garden.

The grant has bought more fish, a new and more reliable water tank for the garden, grow beds and water testing kits, plus gone towards plumbing and electrical needs for the fish tanks.

"We have an emphasis on sustainability and real-life learning applications. The grant has gone a long way to improve student outcomes," teacher Jess Sarmento said.

"The aquaponics system uses every part of the mathematics syllabus, which links in with real world applications.

"It was also important for the students to feel like they own this project. I really think they do. They run it all and are very enthusiastic about it."

Aquaponics is a symbiotic system, which the Year 6 students are all too happy to explain. Grow beds full of clay balls are placed near or over the top of the fish tanks.

The system sees water from fish tanks containing silver perch used to water the grow beds which, now full of nutrients from the plants, is then cycled back out into the fish tank.

"Only certain crops can grow in soil and soil sucks up a lot of water," student Latayiah Swain said. "We use clay balls because they have better effects on the environment and they give water back with nutrients."

The system also teaches students about sustainability. When the fish die, they are fed to the school's chickens.