2017-12-15 / Community News

Students hooked on aquaponics project

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer


Science teacher Albert McCormack releases more fish into the school’s aquaponics tank located in the high school learning commons. The by product of fish in the tank breaks down to serve as nutrients to help grow a variety of plants, including lettuce, cilantro, kale and oregano. (Michael Kelley photos) Science teacher Albert McCormack releases more fish into the school’s aquaponics tank located in the high school learning commons. The by product of fish in the tank breaks down to serve as nutrients to help grow a variety of plants, including lettuce, cilantro, kale and oregano. (Michael Kelley photos) The Scarborough High School learning commons is a place to find books and other resources for a variety of content areas, but at the entrance is something typically not found in such spaces.

Through a $2,000 grant from the Scarborough Education Foundation, Scarborough High School environmental science teacher Albert McCormack has worked with students to create an aquaponics system. Aquaponics is the combination of aquaculture (the raising of fish) with hydroponics (the growing of plants without soil).

Students have been working to get the system up and running since the beginning of school and last week, Scarborough High School junior school board representative Dyllan Hinton shared with the board of education the progress made with the system so far and the goal for the project.

“When it is finished, we will have 10 fish in it and the byproduct of the fish can be broken down by bacteria into nutrients for plants that are growing right above it,” he said.

The system, which as of late last week had seven fish, is using the nutrients of the goldfish and tilapia byproduct to grow kale, lettuce, cilantro and oregano, which, when harvested will be used in the Teen Cooking Kitchen, a program in the school’s academic life skills classroom. As part of the Teen Cooking Kitchen, students cook and deliver a three-course lunch to staff members every week.

Once fully up and running, the system will be self-sustaining, although students will be tasked with regularly testing the water and refilling it when it gets too low.


Sophomore John Nappi was one of the more than a dozen student who have helped to get the aquaponics system up and running. Although the system is self-sufficient, students are still needed to test the water and monitor the system. (Courtesy photo) Sophomore John Nappi was one of the more than a dozen student who have helped to get the aquaponics system up and running. Although the system is self-sufficient, students are still needed to test the water and monitor the system. (Courtesy photo) McCormack has had a smaller aquaponics system in his classroom for the last two years. Although McCormack said an aquaponics system is typically use to grow leafy greens, his classroom system is growing beefsteak tomatoes.

“You can grow anything, but leafy greens are the best. I experimented with tomatoes in my room and they are doing well,” he said.

His smaller system, he said, inspired him to submit a Scarborough Education Foundation grant request. He then reached out to the Teens Cooking Kitchen staff to see if they were interested in being the beneficiary of the system’s end product.

While the learning commons may not be a typical place for such a system, it makes sense for the school.

“The idea of having it here is every teacher and student walking by it can see it, learn about it and be curious about it,” McCormack said before several students stopped by the system as he was adding more fish to it.

The system, he said, has already been a great learning experience for the 15 students who have been involved in getting the project up and running.

Sophomore Nic Laro helped with the wiring and set up of the tank and will be working to create a live stream of the tank, possibly through Google Hangouts.

“I think it’s really cool to be able to have the thing sustain itself. I hope once (students) see how it works, they will get more of an interest in it,” Laro said.

Several students in the Environmental Club of Scarborough (ECOS), including Jackie DeQuattro, have also had a hand in establishing the aquaponics system.

DeQuattro helped to choose which fish to include in the system and tests the water every week.

“I heard about it through a friends and it sounded like a cool opportunity,” said DeQuattro, a junior. “I am always interested in the environmental stuff that is going on here.”

Junior and ECOS president Ryan O’Leary heard about the project from DeQuattro and was also quick to get involved.

“It’s interesting, the whole environmental component, and to have a different way to produce food,” he said.

Fellow junior and ECOS member Riley Beliveau has also been testing the pH and bacteria levels weekly and has worked to create an infographic to show passing students and staff the benefits of the system.

“Having it in a place like the library, with all the students, I hope it will be educational,” she said.

Her vision for the system doesn’t end at Scarborough High School. Beliveau said she would love to see an aquaponics system in the district’s other schools to help “create food in an environmentally sustainable way.”

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

Return to top