Extreme Green Lab a Huge Hit at Lane Tech (PHOTOS)
It’s the first school in Chicago to offer the state-of-the-art laboratory with live fish and hydroponic plant growth, and to teachers, the possibilities seem endless.
The lab is the first of its kind in the Chicago Public School District, and it focuses on urban farming, similar to the popular company Growing Power. Now students can experiment with growing plants like swiss chard and basil indoors without soil, using live fish tanks and some sophisticated hydroponic plant technology.
Cristen Lain and Christine Gonzales – both teachers in the school’s science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program – have been key players behind getting the new lab up and running. According to the duo, they’re excited about the opportunities the new space brings to students.
“Some of these kids have never grown a thing in their lives,” laughed Lain. “Now we have half the football team running in after practice to see how their bean sprouts are coming. It sparked a whole different interest in a lot of our students.”
Lane Tech Principal Dr. Christopher Dignam introduced the new lab on the first day of school, Sept. 1, and not long after, Mayor Rahm Emanuel toured the new facility. That comes after crews spent the entire summer transforming three rooms basically used for storage into two laboratories and three lecture halls.
However, the real star of the renovation is the Aquaponics lab. Taking up the majority of space in one of the rooms, the indoor garden is certainly a unique learning tool.
“People don’t expect to see this because it’s a high school, but our principal has a science background, so he wanted to make sure that our school was not just having a STEM program, but had something other schools wouldn’t be able to offer,” said Gonzales.
“You’re just going to learn a whole lot more about science working in here than reading from a text book.”
And for the 4,300 students at Lane Tech, the teachers say the possibilities with the lab are endless. From learning about urban agriculture and food deserts to students in web development courses designing a website around the lab, the teachers’ minds are reeling.
“We have a ton of other classes that come in and use the room for other things,” said Lain. “We have the technology aspect that Christine is really involved in that will be about setting up and running a website. The research can be used in math classes, and our health classes have already talked about coming in here to talk about nutrition. We’re pretty much trying to hit every possible course.”
And in an attempt to continue fundraising to maintain the facility, classes have already begun talking with local restaurants about selling the organic plants and even the fish used to create the fertilizer.
“There are so many avenues we want to go down, and setting up partnerships with local restaurants is one of them,” said Lain. “…You’re just going to learn a whole lot more about science working in here than reading from a text book.”