An aquaponics project at Maui Preparatory Academy is challenging students to learn on several levels and grow in some unexpected ways. Funded with a $2,000 grant from Maui Economic Development Board Ke Alahele Education Fund, the project is not just about growing plants in nutrient-rich water. “This builds confidence in my students to ask questions and investigate,” environmental science teacher Dr. Kathleen Ireland said. The project came about after Ireland challenged her 15 11th- and 12th-grade students to come up with a hands-on, environmentally conscious activity.
The students and Ireland agreed to pursue the aquaponics project suggested by 12th-grader Kauaiola Wendt. Their proposal features the construction and maintenance of an aquaponics system using both traditional and solar power to run the pump and care for carrots and fish. The project involves using both manual and digital tools to design the project while also researching how Hawaiians had a heavy reliance on sustainable agriculture organized within ahupua’a, which were ancient Hawaiian land divisions running from the mountains to the sea. Ireland said that, for a while, she had to take the lead with finding money to fund the project and then creating a timeline for students to follow and complete. Since then, the students have taken over.
Maui Prep’s high school students, with the help of younger middle school-aged students, are building an aquaponics project on their campus. The project’s main objectives will be met when a useful pamphlet is prepared, plants are growing, fish are thriving and every student can describe the system and how it was created. Ireland said her students are fully engaged. “That’s why I teach,” she said. “You start the fire and keep it fed.” She cannot predict whether the experience will result in inspiring new scientists or aquaponics farmers. “I just want to build responsible citizens, and I think that’s what’s happening here,” she said.