WATSON --Sixth-grade ELA students at Live Oak Middle spent part of Friday’s class outside.
But this wasn’t a leisurely day of reading and writing under the sun to kick off the weekend.
These students were building.
Inspired by a book they read earlier this year, students in two of Kimberly Lejeune’s sixth grade ELA classes rolled up their sleeves and began construction on separate hydroponics systems that will enable them to grow their own soilless vegetables.
Instead of sitting in a classroom on a hot Friday morning, two classes comprised of around 50 students were busy measuring PVC pipes, helping cut out holes, assembling pipes together — and sometimes taking them apart and starting over.
The concept for the project originated after Lejeune had her students read “Among the Hidden,” a young adult novel by Margaret Peterson Haddix that takes place in a dystopian society where food is so scarce that laws forbid parents from having more than two kids — and absolutely no pets.
In the book, which is the first in a seven-part series, one man attempts to circumvent the law and thinks up a way to provide the additional food needed for this third child — or his “shadow child.”
That way was hydroponics farming, the indoor process of growing plants in sand, gravel, or liquid, with added nutrients but without soil, fertilizers, pesticides or traditional machinery. If properly carried out, it can yield healthier, organic products with less waste, faster growing times and little to no pollution.
As they were reading the book, questions were raised about growing populations, food scarcity and the decline of available farmlands — the chief issues in “Among the Hidden.” Those questions were brought to the real world during a history lesson in which the children learned how at one time Watson was full of farmlands before major developments took place.
After her students finished reading “Among the Hidden,” Lejeune talked to them about doing a project similar to the one in the book, and they immediately jumped on board.
To execute the project, students from both classes divided into different committees to help split up the work.
In one committee were the engineers, who were tasked with selecting and designing the layout for their hydroponics systems. People in the water/minerals/plant committee were tasked with researching the most ideal plants to grow, while the harvest committee were tasked with helping plant and care for the vegetables. Students in the budget committee were tasked with raising funds.
Fortunately for the sixth-graders, they got a big lift from Tractor Supply in Denham Springs, which donated the building materials for the project, including thick and thin PVC pipes, elbow connectors, gutter filters, mesh filters and plastic tubes.
On Thursday, students in the engineering committees presented their ideas to their classmates, who then voted on which ones to do.
One of Lejeune’s classes went with the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) System, which is built with a slight angle to allow water to flow downward through the tube holding the plants. A plastic reservoir will pump nutrients and water into the tube, where they will flow downward through the base of the plants before falling back into the reservoir underneath to be recycled through again.
Lejeune’s other class voted on the vertical ebb-and-flow model. In this model, nutrients and water are pumped to the top of system, and from there they cycle down through zigzagging rows of PVC that contain the plants. And like the NFT System, water collects in the plastic reservoir and is recycled through again.
On Friday, the students did most of the work, though a couple of their dads were on hand to do the actual sawing and cutting. But other than that, the students did the measuring, designing and assembling.
Both classes will resume construction on their systems after the weekend, and when they finish building, they’ll determine which vegetables — likely lettuce and tomatoes — to grow. After that, they’ll place each of the systems in front of both windows in Lejeune’s classroom to monitor the plants’ progress.
But middle-schoolers aren’t keeping this energy-saving method of growing to themselves: They’re also going to try to spread the word. As part of the project, students will write essays to local farmers listing the pros and cons of hydroponics farming and traditional farming.