New York City Department of Education Chancellor David Banks got a taste of the work being done in the Cornell Hydroponics, Aquaculture and Aquaponics Learning Labs at Food and Finance High School (FFHS) during a visit May 11.
He joined a team of students for a cooking competition, which his team won with a broccoli pesto pasta dish. All the dishes included herbs grown in the learning labs by students in the Cornell University Cooperative Extension Hydroponics, Aquaponics Science and Technology Education Program at the culinary-focused high school.
“There’s a joy that you can feel in this place and that comes from a culture that has been developed here,” Banks said. “That is very evident to somebody like me, who is not only a product of the New York City public schools, but is also someone who served as a teacher, a school principal for 13 years and has been doing this work for a long time.”
Banks visited the school as part of an event organized by Goldman Sachs Gives, the financial firm’s philanthropy arm, and the Food Education Fund, a nonprofit that supports FFHS students and alumni.
Philson A.A. Warner, founding director of the Cornell Learning Labs, gave Banks a tour through the rooftop aquaponics lab, which combines aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (plants grown without soil) systems.
“He saw the mini [Nutrient Drip Flow Technique] hydroponic system, which is STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” Warner said. “He was energized about that and the interaction with the students in that particular sphere.”
The learning labs provide a multidisciplinary program for the students: They learn about life cycles, food production techniques and the business of food production. Students spend four to eight hours per week in the labs, producing foods like tilapia, various varieties of lettuce and herbs for the FFHS culinary arts program.
The partnership between the school, Cornell University Cooperative Extension-New York City and the New York City Department of Education is a model for experiential education in New York City, Banks said.
For Warner, Cornell and CCE are addressing an educational challenge that goes beyond New York City.
“How do you take real-time technology and put it in the form of curriculum and speak to the strategy and methodology of teaching STEM?” he said. “This is one way.”
Juan Vazquez-Leddon is communications director for the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research in the College of Human Ecology.