School Highlight: George Mason High School

May 21, 2018
Biology

Dr. Peter Mecca's students at George Mason High School in Falls Church, Virginia, are thriving under the Hydroponics program started at their school 3-4 years ago. Dr. Mecca says his students have really matured and developed in many areas including content, social skills, communication skills and personally. Their program has been such a success, they are asked to give presentations, and they have been recognized nationally with such prestigious awards as the Presidential Environmental Youth Award from EPA Region 3 and the Green Schools Award for Innovative Project, among others. 

Dr. Mecca says this hydroponice program has really changed his students' attitude toward learning, as well as their attitude interacting with others on both a personal and social level. You see, these students are ones that seldom get recognized for their abilities. These students are special education and ESAL students who have fully engaged themselves into Dr. Mecca's program. Dr. Mecca is a science teacher and Environmental Club Sponsor who originally started some raised beds on campus with his students. Dr. Mecca could see the affect on his students and their interest in growing plants, so he and his former partner, who taught special education and science, started thinking of ways to expand the program. Initially, they wanted to increase their yield by building a greenhouse, but their school was on the schedule to get a new building which meant the greenhouse would have to be portable. Due to a lot of red tape with the city regarding codes, contractors, etc., they decided there were too many roadblocks to build a greenhouse. That summer, Dr. Mecca took a class at Virginia State University where he was introduced to hydroponics, and that's when he got the idea "Instead of going outside with a greenhouse, let's just go inside!" And that's how it all began.

 

Today, the hydroponics program is thriving and bringing great awareness to George Mason High School, plus it even has other schools wanting to replicate their success. Through this program, students are using problem-solving skills, learning entrepreneurship skills, and learning other skill sets that they will continue to use throughout their lifetime. You see, they are the ones doing all the work! They do all the feeding, maintaining the tanks, checking the chemistry of the water, etc.  Growing lettuce year round, keeps them engaged and gives them a "job" to supply fresh product in the cafeteria for all students. 

Dr. Mecca and his students are also involved in aquaculture with growing tilapia and are currently working to create a sustainable tilapia production so that they have both hydroponics and aquaponics. Students are in the process of converting a 300 gallon tank to aquaponics and are hoping to have it set up be early June. Always striving for more ways to engage students, Dr. Mecca's program will also start FarmBot which is roboticized farming. Check out this website to learn more.

Hydroponics and Aquaponics have both offered Dr. Mecca's students a way to shine both as a team and as individuals. Dr. Mecca says they would not be where they are without the great support from the professors at Virginia State University. If you are looking to start a similar program in your school, some colleges and universities in your area may be willing to provide the information you need, as well.

Stephanie Miller

With over 25 years experience, Stephanie serves as a senior copywriter, social media director, and senior editor for Science Scene. Stephanie is always on the lookout for new educational and STEM-related opportunities and technology.