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Centers for New Horizons, a community development agency assisting children and families in Chicago’s Bronzeville and Riverdale communities of Chicago’s South Side, is partnering with Sweet Water and community liaisons and educators to bring aquaponics and urban agriculture into local schools in Bronzeville.
Historically, many African Americans moving north in the Great Migration settled in Bronzeville, which became the vibrant community known as The Black Metropolis, home to prominent entrepreneurs, musicians, writers, leaders, and businessmen in the early 20th century. Bronzeville subsequently went through decades of disinvestment, compounded by the construction of miles of concentrated public housing projects in the 1950s, including the infamous Robert Taylor Homes, which have since been demolished. Even before the beginning of reinvestment in Bronzeville, Centers for New Horizons has been operating since 1971, focusing on community collaborations to bring about positive change through a number of different programs.
Sweet Water’s partnership will involve multiple schools in Bronzeville: Jackie Robinson Elementary, Wells Prep Academy, which runs through 8th grade, and Dunbar Career Academy High School. On Tuesday, Oct. 16, 3rd grade students from Jackie Robinson and middle school students from Wells Prep attended a tour at the Chicago State Aquaponics facility, with Sweet Water Executive Director Emmanuel Pratt and CSU Aquaponics Club member Drew Hines.
The next day, students, parents, teachers, and community representatives met to record interviews that were compiled by Vocalo, a Chicago area station that is the self-proclaimed “cool kid sister” to Chicago’s Public Radio station, WBEZ 91.5 FM and seeks to connect with a “younger, culturally diverse audience.” The interview was conducted in a classroom at Jackie Robinson Elementary, where Sweet Water has recently installed a mini aquaponics unit, constructed by Dennis Muhammed. Jason Axt constructed and installed the system at Wells Prep Academy and is currently developing the system for Dunbar Career Academy High School. During the interview at Jackie Robinson, students shared their reflections about aquaponics and their recent visit to the Chicago State Aquaponics Center.
This past Monday, Vocalo Morning AMp hosts Brian Babylon and Molly Adams shared recordings from these interviews accompanied by a panel discussion with the lead architects of this partnership, including Sweet Water’s Emmanuel Pratt, John Owens, the Director of Community Building for Centers for New Horizons, and Lorenzo Young, a community representative from the local school council who previously taught at Jackie Robinson. The words of these students as well as the commentary about the vision of what aquaponics might bring to this community represent Sweet Water’s vision for building resilient 21st century communities. Please listen to the interview and share with anyone who might be interested in what Sweet Water is doing in Chicago and Milwaukee schools!
This weekend, Executive Director Emmanuel Pratt will be serving as a judge in the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) Student Design Competition in Detroit on Saturday October 20. Students participating in the design challenge, Urban [space] US12… Idea Center, are charged with studying underutilized land in Southwest Detroit for developing new Urban Spaces. These new urban spaces should “preserve and enhance the existing sites and community [and] reflect on the historic significance of the neighborhood,” while designing a cohesive urban planning scheme which incorporates elements from the Greening of Detroit Initiative and designing an “Idea Center,” serving as a “nucleus for education and information focusing on holistic and healthy living.” This focus on social, economic, and environmental objectives is well-aligned with Sweet Water’s mission to educate for resilient 21st century communities through sustainable urban agriculture.
Participation as a judge in this design competition was built on a successful program run at Chicago State (CSU) with the Illinois chapter of NOMA this past summer. Designed for aspiring architects, this day-long seminar on urban agriculture, aquaponics, and the intersection with architecture covered background on repurposing industrial spaces and employed different drawing techniques through a design charette. The conclusion of the program involved the construction of raised garden beds and presentations of designs.
Both collaborations with NOMA are examples of using a complex multidisciplinary approach through architecture to revitalize urban spaces. Sweet Water approaches this mission by reaching out through like-minded organizations tackling similar issues.
Sweet Water Foundation has begun their fall professional development course for educators in the Milwaukee area who aim to introduce aquaponics in their classrooms this year. Five weekly training sessions, will walk participants through the process of designing, building, and maintaining an aquaponics system, and will be a forum to discuss curriculum connections as well. Sweet Water plans to offer similar courses in the future in both Milwaukee and Chicago. Please let us know if you would like to be on a list to receive information about future trainings.
Sweet Water Foundation plans to expand on successful involvement with teachers and schools in both Milwaukee and Chicago. In the past, Sweet Water has been involved in numerous initiatives to equip teachers with the skills and knowledge to implement successful aquaponics lessons to support STEM curriculum and engage students through hands-on experimentation. Sweet Water is collaborating with Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) on their Professional Learning Community (PLC) supporting instruction of various STEM disciplines through urban agriculture and aquaponics. The Urban School Aquaponics PLC is funded by MPS and is an extension of the Urban School Aquaponics (USA) initiative, funded from 2009-2012 by a grant sponsored by NEA Foundation and AT&T Foundation. It will also build on work done by the Milwaukee Teacher Education Center (MTEC) and Sweet Water Foundation conducting teacher training and coaching teachers as part of the Midwest Aquaponics Expertise Development Initiative (MAEDI), funded by USDA. Teachers from a variety of content areas were trained in aquaponics and designed lessons which were delivered to students during the 2011-2012 school year.
This past summer, with a grant from the NEA Foundation, Education Coordinator Jill Frey and Milwaukee City Director, Jesse Blom, compiled a book of lesson plans written by teachers participating in both MAEDI and USA training initiatives. This booklet will serve as a guide to potential curriculum connections for teachers starting up with aquaponics in their classrooms.
In the future, Sweet Water’s digital platform AQUAPONS, currently in development, will serve to extend and connect these local initiatives to a wider scope. AQUAPONS will connect teachers, students, and independent learners to a growing international network. Sharing information about best practices in the field of aquaponics will strengthen and extend the initial work of educators, Sweet Water, and their partners in Milwaukee and Chicago.
In less than three years, interest in our education programming has expanded exponentially. Through all of the various forms, we have reached approximately 100 schools at every level of the education pipeline. A crucial component of our process has been connecting teachers and students from different schools practicing aquaponics, facilitating information exchange and generating new ideas. Last May, Sweet Water in Milwaukee coordinated an Aquaponics in the Classroom showcase event, or “harvest celebration,” where students and teachers presented their aquaponic designs and models, spoke of challenges and successes, and ate salads harvested from aquaponic systems. The feedback from this showcase encourages us to repeat this event annually or even biannually with our growing list of schools and partners.
We were really inspired by the enthusiasm and creativity of these students in design, construction, and presentation of their systems. As we kick off another year working with inspiration young people in Milwaukee and Chicago, we are excited to uncover what the new school year will bring!
Sweet Water has been involved in many types of projects; however, the cornerstone of our programming has been working with teachers to engage students in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics) disciplines, and extending this impact to their lives outside of the classroom. This programming involves, tours, workshops on composting and aquaponics, classroom visits, and construction of aquaponics systems, which may be small displays or occupy an entire greenhouse. Sweet Water seeks to provide this programming to all students, working to lower costs by incorporating in-kind donations and seeking additional funding when necessary.
In 2011, Sweet Water successfully piloted the Seed to Table program, funded by a $5000 donation from Newman’s Own Foundation, at Loyola Academy, a small school on the South Side of Milwaukee serving at-risk urban youth. The program involved construction of an aquaponic system inside a greenhouse on school property, and engaged 20 students through the process of growing healthy food from seed to harvest, including tilapia and a variety of vegetables both in garden beds and aquaponic systems. The program was enormously successful as a summer school program, followed by a class during the fall semester, and has been the basis for many school projects since.
We were thrilled when the Newman’s Own Foundation granted us additional funding this month to fully support 3 additional schools into the Seed to Table Program throughout the 2012-2013 school year. Sweet Water Foundation will use the funding to support Bradley Tech High School and South Division High School in Milwaukee, as well as Lindblom Math and Science Academy in Chicago. The full range of programming includes tours, workshops, materials, labor and coaching throughout the process of aquaponic system construction. Some funds will be used to cover further outreach in Milwaukee and Chicago and Newman’s Own has already indicated that they will be following up with identical support throughout the 2012-2013 school year.
We are tremendously grateful to Newman’s Own for funding Sweet Water to work with these schools. As we continue to build on past successes and scale up our operation to provide additional programming, both face-to-face and digitally, we hope to gain the financial assistance necessary to provide scholarships to all schools requesting support to pursue aquaponics projects in the future.
Three CPS students from the Calumet Is My Back Yard environmental stewardship service-learning program were funded by the Summer Youth Employment program of Chicago Public Schools and were hosted by Emmanuel Pratt, Executive director of Sweet Water and Head of Aquaponics at Chicago State University (CSU), along with members of the Aquaponics club at CSU and Sweet Water associates. Students worked for 20 hours per week from July 2nd through August 10th. Interns learned the principles behind aquaponics and were trained in various aspects of system design and maintenance, for both aquaponic systems and traditional garden beds. Their journals and final Powerpoint presentation document their process of mixing soil, seeding, reflection, journaling, cleaning pots, caring for plants, watering, transplanting, cleaning grow beds, and building a small-scale aquaponic system.
This was one of many programs run this summer, allowing students and youth from different programs to work together along with staff and mentors of varying experience and backgrounds. We hope to accommodate a larger group of interns in future summers.
Sweet Water Foundation strives to educate students through the integration of aquaponics into school curriculum. Sweet Water Foundation’s programs guide students not only through the construction of an aquaponics system, but also through capturing their experience via art, video, writing, and community engagement.
Students at Rufus King High School, in Milwaukee, WI, over the last year has worked with Sweet Water Foundation to build a fully functioning green house. Students documented their experiences, and have uploaded them onto youtube in order to engage the greater Milwaukee community.