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Hydroponic Kits, A Class, A Community: An Interview with Wendy Rodriguez

June 10, 2021

From growing beans and calendula, lettuce and celery, and even germinating blueberries and pumpkins, it’s been a busy year for Wendy Rodriguez’s students at PS 176 The Ovington School, in Brooklyn. Although the majority of her students – she teaches kindergarten through 2nd grade – were learning from home throughout the school year, the lack of a formal classroom didn’t stop these farmer-scientists from exploring, investigating, and farming from window sills, tables, and desks at home.

She spoke with us in May to share some of the highlights and lessons learned over this past school year.

The kids loved working with the kits!
The kids have become so passionate about what they’ve grown. They’ve had some amazing successes — plants with really thick stems, beautiful calendula flowers, beans. Sometimes kids don’t want to eat what they’ve grown because they’re so proud of the plants and become attached to them.

They’ve gotten creative with repurposing household materials . . .
Students learned to work with what they had at home — water bottles, milk cartons, even a toilet paper roll cut in half – for transplanting the plants when they got too big for the hydroponic wick system.

. . . And with reusing food scraps to grow food without buying seeds!
Kids went beyond what they had in the kits to grow vegetables and fruit from food scraps at home. Some grew celery, lettuce, and green onion plants from the leftover plant bases, and a few kids even germinated blueberry plants, avocados, mango and pomelo plants! One student, with a very green thumb, germinated oranges, pumpkins, and green peppers, all from leftovers!

Not everything worked but the failures are important too . . .
Sometimes plants didn’t grow, but those failures are important too, because it’s important for kids to understand that it’s okay when something doesn’t work out and to know that growing plants isn’t easy.

. . . And unplanned lessons are just as important as the planned ones!
We learned together that it was more difficult to grow the plants in the winter months, when there was less natural light and drafts from the windows. We’re having more luck growing again this spring, with better sunlight and warmer weather.

The kits inspired experiments and investigations . . . .
One 2nd grader tested the effect of temperature on plant growth by placing one plant in a heat tube and the second in front of an open window. Another student compared the effect of using fresh versus fish waste water on bean plant growth (fish waste wins — the waste provides important nutrients!).

. . . And helped create a remote community
Parents shared growing tips with Wendy, kids shared growing tips with one another, helping everybody learn and connect even when they couldn’t be together in person.

In all, shared Wendy, “it’s been a challenging year but we made it work. Kids are resilient — they adapt more easily than adults.”

Thank you, Wendy, and to all our partner teachers for the tremendous work you do, this year and every year!


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