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Home Hydroponic Kits: LAST CALL for FALL ORDERS

Our new Home Hydroponic Kits have been a terrific success and we only have a few more available for the fall semester.  If your school is interested in purchasing some for the fall, please sign up here by November 30:  Fall Home Hydroponic Kit Request Form

But don’t worry!  Our team will be putting together more kits in January for spring courses!  A new Spring Request form will be posted in December.  

Kits have been used in K-12th grade – primarily for at-home remote learning, but also in the classroom when students aren’t able to visit the hydroponic lab due to social distancing requirements.  Some new schools that do not yet have a greenhouse classroom have also been able to use the Kits and stand-alone curriculum, and we are excited to begin this new type of partnership.  

The NY Sun Works Home Hydroponic Kits enable students, with teacher guidance, to grow, study, and run investigations with plants from home or in the classroom. The lessons, in combination with the kits, aim to introduce students to topics they would otherwise be learning about in their Greenhouse Classrooms. The Kit and lessons are intentionally designed to create flexibility for teachers to bolster and incorporate content of the courses that are already being taught (such as Living Environment, AP Biology and AP Environmental Science at the high school level).  Each lesson is accompanied by a student-facing Google Slides presentation.

If you have any questions regarding curriculum support, please contact Hannah Jaris (hannah@nysunworks.org).

If you have any questions regarding proposals or pricing, please contact Megan Nordgrén (megan@nysunworks.org).

Wrapping Up Home Hydroponic Kit Fundraiser – Thank You for Your Support

As we wrap up our Fall Home Hydroponic Kit campaign, we’re happy to share that we’ve delivered over 4,000 kits to public schools so far, with deliveries continuing through the fall.  And, thanks to the generosity of our NY Sun Works community, we were able to provide more than 3,100 kits at no cost to schools that need financial support due to COVID-related budget cuts.  If you’d like to help support the campaign, there’s still time!  Please click here to make a contribution.

The kits have met with resounding enthusiasm from teachers and students alike. “This feels like Christmas,” said one 8th grader at PS 122 in Queens on opening her kit.  Her teacher said the classroom was buzzing as the kits were handed out with students talking about the plants they’d be growing and how they’d care for their plants.  The kits and curriculum have been a lifesaver, she also shared, bringing joy and something to look forward to each day for students that have been struggling with remote learning and being stuck at home. 

Each kit costs only $12 and is designed to engage students with STEM topics they would otherwise learn in their Greenhouse Classrooms at school.  With teacher guidance and paired with our science lessons, students have the chance to grow, study, and run investigations while growing lettuce and other edible greens from home as well as practice observation, data collection, and other critical STEM skills. 

Be sure to keep an eye out on social media and in our next newsletter for photos of kids and their projects with the kits!

November Professional Learning Opportunities

The week of November 16th, the Education team will be offering a professional learning opportunity for our Greenhouse Classroom Teachers. During the 1 hour session, The Power of Observation, we will share tools designed to encourage and support students as they practice close observations, connect to and learn about plants and sustainability, and even create living laboratories at home. These tools encourage student learning (data collection and observation) outside of class time and away from the computer, and can help teachers track student learning and engagement. We will also review the variety of resources available on the NY Sun Works Learning Center that encourage and facilitate students to practice close observation skills, collect and analyze data, design investigations, and more. NY Sun Works is honored to be able to provide teachers and students with resources to support learning about sustainability science, urban agriculture, and hydroponics during the 2020-2021 school year. 

The same session will be offered three times the week of November 16th. Please use the links below to register for the session that works best for your schedule. 

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact Hannah Jaris (hannah@nysunworks.org).

Indoors or Outside, Growing Plants Helps Support Students’ Emotional Well-Being

In a regular year, time in our Greenhouse Classrooms doesn’t just help students build proficiency in STEM and sustainability — it also supports students in their social-emotional learning.  Now, with access to the Greenhouse Classrooms limited due to COVID and with many students learning remotely, our Home Hydroponic Kits are filling this role instead.  The Kits are designed to engage students with topics they would otherwise learn about in their Greenhouse Classrooms.  But the hydroponic kit lessons also deliberately incorporate activities to foster social-emotional well-being.  For example, each day, students are tasked with observing and tending to their plants, creating a stabilizing routine and something to look forward to each day.  The opportunity to share their progress and challenges with their classmates and teachers fosters a spirit of collaboration and curiosity as students talk about what has worked and why.  And sharing food with their family – even just a leaf or two of kale or herbs – creates a deep sense of pride and brings the whole family into the learning experience.

Whether in the Greenhouse Classrooms, at home with a plant on the windowsill, or outside in a garden plot, students gain a wealth of scientific knowledge and farming know-how from tending plants.  But just as important as academic learning are the emotional benefits that come from cultivating plants — the sense of responsibility in caring for a living, growing thing, the pride and confidence in helping it grow, and the stability that comes from a daily gardening routine.  These benefits — always important to a child’s social-emotional well-being – have become even more crucial now as students contend with the uncertainty and instability of their lives during the pandemic.

Numerous studies have confirmed what gardeners intuitively know: that gardening and growing food promote emotional well-being.  The benefits range from reducing stress and anxiety to elevating mood and alleviating depression. Among students, caring for plants has been shown to foster a sense of responsibility, accomplishment, and self-confidence; growing edible plants has the added benefit of helping students develop more healthful eating habits and a more positive relationship with food. Caring for plants is also a way for students to grow their community, as they bond with classmates over the successes and challenges of cultivating plants and share their progress and the food they’ve grown with their family and neighbors. 

All of these benefits fall within the broad category of Social-Emotional Learning (SEL).  An important part of K-12th grade educational programs, SEL is the idea of supporting students in understanding and managing their emotions, building self-confidence, and learning to communicate constructively with others.  In science, SEL extends to helping students gain confidence to ask questions and explore new ideas, to know it’s okay to try and not have an idea work out as hoped, and to collaborate and build trust with their classmates.  In designing, implementing, and analyzing experiments, students find agency, confidence and a sense of control that carry over into other aspects of their academic and personal lives.

Students are contending this year with so many questions they shouldn’t have to ask: Will I get sick if I go to school? Will remote learning be enough?  Will my parents be safe in their front-line jobs?  In many of our partner schools, students face the added daily stresses of food insecurity, family members out of work, and high death counts in their communities.  As educators, we must use every tool we have to support students through this difficult time.  The chance to cultivate a plant, to experience the joy of watching it grow, to harvest and share the food they’ve grown with their families and school community, is the chance for students to build the resilience and confidence they need and deserve. 

Home Hydroponic Kit CURRICULUM Now Available

NY Sun Works previously shared information about our new Home Hydroponic Kit – designed to allow students, with teacher guidance to grow, study, and conduct experiments with plants from home or in the classroom. In addition to the Kits, we have been working on supports for our teachers to aid in teaching with the Kits. We are excited to share that the first set of lessons (including student-facing Google Slides) for grades K-5, 6-8, and 9-12 are now available on NYSW’s Learning Center! Teachers with access to the Learning Center will find them at the top of the TEACH page, in the Home Hydroponic Kits section.

This first set of lessons do not require students to have the Kits, so can be used right away while you await your Kit delivery. These lessons aim to access prior knowledge and build excitement about growing plants at home through asking students to think about where their food comes from, plant parts, plant life cycles, data collection, and introducing hydroponic farming technology — how it works and how it allows us to grow food in urban areas.

The next set of lessons that DO require the Kits will be available NEXT WEEK, coinciding with the beginning of Kit delivery to schools. These lessons introduce students to growing plants with water and nutrients, how to track and collect data about plant growth and development, and how to care for the plants as they are growing.  If your school is still interested in requesting Home Hydroponic Kits, please go to this link: https://forms.gle/PKrYFCKXN35p5vE76

The final set of lessons will be available by the end of October and introduce extended scientific investigations that can be set up with the remaining Kit materials. Note: students will need to collect additional materials depending on the investigation (e.g., recycled single-use plastic water bottles, string, chopsticks, or cardboard).

If you have any questions regarding curriculum support, please contact Hannah Jaris (hannah@nysunworks.org).

If you have any questions regarding proposals or pricing, please contact Megan Nordgrén (megan@nysunworks.org).

NY Sun Works Donation of Fresh Vegetables to Community Center

In an exciting partnership with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer’s office, NY Sun Works donated approximately 40 pounds of fresh vegetables to Goddard Riverside’s Phelps House, a community center.  The lettuce, arugula, bok choy and basil were grown in the non-profit’s flagship hydroponic greenhouse at PS 333 Manhattan School for Children.  PS 333’s Principal Claire Lowenstein was excited to participate in the harvest and proud that her school community could provide fresh food to neighbors in need. 

This is part of NY Sun Works’s efforts to help schools and communities facing food insecurity to provide fresh vegetables to those in need.  With the covid-19 school scheduling changes, schools that are unable to use their hydroponic labs for in-person learning have the option to run their hydroponic lab as an urban farm.  The average school lab can grow up to 25 lbs per 6-week harvest, which is a LOT of lettuce!  

Another Manhattan school is eager to join in this effort.  “I think it’s amazing that the lab can provide food for families.  The PTA is already coming up with bags of groceries.  The fact that a program like NY Sun Works can step in and not only teach kids about hydroponics but also provide food for families in need is priceless,” shared the hydroponic lab teacher.

Stories From Our Partner Schools

A Teacher’s View: Lamesha Self, from PS 180 in Harlem  

“We’re all learning here.  We’re learning to be more flexible than we ever thought we’d have to be.”

Lamesha Self is the hydroponics teacher at PS 180 in Harlem, where she teaches K-5th graders how to grow food hydroponically and all about science and sustainability through the lens of urban farming.  A teacher for 18 years, this past year was Lamesha’s first year in the hydroponics lab.  She talked with NY Sun Works in August about why she likes the hydroponics program, what this past year has been like, and how she’s preparing for this upcoming school year.  

How do you like teaching in the Greenhouse Classroom?

The hydroponics program starts children and their families thinking – because children come home and teach their families – about a different way, a healthier way of thinking about food.  Kids are so enthusiastic about fruits and vegetables and growing food organically, and it’s so exciting to see the kids’ enthusiasm.

The program opens up ideas, things students never would have thought about before. Like that farming isn’t just on regular farms, that it can happen in urban farms, and that traditional farming isn’t sustainable.  We can’t keep knocking down the forests and putting pesticides on the ground.  Kids love that this is organic farming.  We don’t even use organic pesticides.

The lab is a major part of the school.  No school tour is complete without visiting the hydroponics lab!

What was it like when schools shut down?

When COVID began, we’d just completed a harvest and were beginning a new seeding process.  I took the seedlings home and put the worms in the surrounding school garden.  Every Monday, I recorded a video about the nursery which I uploaded to Google Classroom to show kids what was happening with the plants.  The kids were so excited to see the plants growing and had so many wonderful things to say.  

We also talked about what plants they were growing at home and if they were eating foods with seeds. I suggested they try planting seeds or dry beans.  Since some kids didn’t have plants at home, I created interactive video lessons where they could recreate the process on screen, like growing a sunflower, planting the seed, and watering the sprout. 

But it was challenging for the kids.  They weren’t used to remote learning.  In the lab, they got to touch the seeds and the plants.  I know they missed the lab because they kept sending messages like, ‘I miss you Miss Self.  I miss being in class.  I miss planting the seeds and growing the vegetables.’

How are you preparing for the new school year?

Hopefully my school will receive a grant to continue with the hydroponics science lab.  Unfortunately, we are just waiting to hear back at this time.  Without the grant my principal informed me that there’s not enough money in the budget because of budget cuts.

However, if we receive the grant and are back with a hybrid, I will be an in-person teacher. The lab will run as usual. The kids, however, will not travel to the lab so I’ll possibly teach virtually or travel to my students’ classes.  l would also record videos of lessons and the plants’ progress. With the hybrid, the kids will have to make portable hydroponics using water bottles just like they successfully did when we left in March because of COVID.

During remote teaching this spring I was able to successfully have a remote science fair, so I’m also looking forward to seeing a lot more hydroponic science projects because I was definitely impressed with the few I had this year.

We’re all learning here.  We’re learning to be more flexible than we ever thought we’d have to be.  No one has a choice but to be flexible.

HOME KITS: NY Sun Works Launches STEM Kits for Public School Students

NY Sun Works is providing Home Hydroponic Kits to students in our partner schools so they have the science supplies they need for at-home learning.  The kits are designed to engage students in topics they would otherwise learn about in the Greenhouse Classrooms and will enable students, with teacher guidance, to grow, study, and run investigations with plants and practice their observation and data collection skills at home. 

Each kit costs only $12 and contains:

  • A seeding tray
  • 5 seed varieties (calendula, green basil, kale, swiss chard, and pole beans)
  • Plant nutrients
  • pH strips and a pH color key for testing nutrient levels
  • Cotton wicks for designing a wick hydroponic system
  • A guide to the seeds in the kit
  • Instruction cards for how to get started with the seeds, how to care for the seedlings, and how to build a DIY wick system using recycled materials.  

Schools interested in requesting kits can complete this form here.  And for all of our supporters, please make a contribution here so we can supply as many kits as needed and help give students a successful learning experience from home this fall!

Merits of Hands-on Learning

By: Amber Carlin-Mishkin and JoEllen Schuleman

Despite the uncertainties that the Coronavirus brings, one thing is certain — summer is coming to an end. This means a new school year is upon us and soon students will be going back to school. Education has been top-of-mind more than ever. Will students learn remotely or in a blended situation? In both cases, many fear students will utilize more technology than ever before. 

Perhaps, though, this moment in our history provides an opportunity to think differently about education. Will there be more learning outdoors and with hands-on (albeit personal) tools? If we are inventive, perhaps we will find we don’t need to simply replicate the regular school day on a screen.

Allow us to explain by example — Do you remember the first time you planted a seed and watched it grow? How about eating a homegrown tomato? By engaging in these experiences, one is offered a visceral sensitivity and imprint. In order to ignite similarly magical and transformative experiences in a child, teachers use hands-on, experiential learning. 

Programs like NY Sun Works have historically given students both the freedom and responsibility to learn through experience, rather than through simply reading or watching something on a screen. Researchers have long reported that hands-on learning increases motivation, creates opportunities for retention, builds social emotional skills, activates lots of brain connections, expands critical thinking, and provides real life preparation.

This year, we believe partners like NY Sun Works will provide the pivotal push that will inspire students to rush back to their learning experiences day after day. Students will both witness growth and grow within themselves as they critically develop decisions on what to do next (add more nutrients?) in order to receive the outcome they are personally striving to obtain (a harvest they can enjoy!). 

In short, rather than staying engulfed in technology-driven education, hands-on learning with NY Sun Works hydroponics is the key we need as educators who aim to inspire students to love learning and engage with the real world.

USDA Grant: NY Sun Works Awarded Competitive Federal Grant for Urban Farming Education

NY Sun Works is one of 10 recipients of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) new Urban Agriculture and Innovative Programs grant, whose goal is to strengthen and expand innovative urban agricultural programs in food insecure communities where access to healthy food is limited or unavailable.

The 3-year grant, for a total of $300,000, will enable us to implement urban farming education programs in nine Brooklyn schools – three elementary, three middle, and three high schools – and to engage the surrounding community around the role of urban farming in healthy eating.  Over the three-year life cycle of the grant, we will partner with the schools to integrate urban farming education into the science curriculum, launch our community outreach Harvest programs, develop an urban farming job training certification program at the three high schools, as well as install a new Greenhouse Classroom at the High School for Innovation in Advertising and Media in Canarsie.  Through these initiatives, students will be able to explore the positive impacts of indoor food production in relation to the environment and as a means to address food access and diet-related health issues in food insecure communities. 

The grant comes at a crucial time, when public schools are facing drastic budget cuts and communities are seeing a spike in food insecurity due to COVID, making access to healthy food all the more importance.  As Adeleza Michelena, principal of the High School for Innovation shared, “Thank you so much!  This has more impact than you will ever know.”  

For more on the USDA’s Urban Agriculture program and to see other funding recipients, please see the USDA’s August 25th press release 

https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2020/08/25/usda-announces-first-ever-recipients-urban-agriculture-grants-and