Seeds of sustainable future planted at third hydroponic school lab opening in Astoria

Photo by Alejandra OConnell-Domenech/QNS

The seeds of a sustainable future have been planted at P.S. 84 – Steinway in Astoria, where Councilman Costa Constantinides helped opened a new hydroponic science lab on Jan. 14.

“Environmental changes are increasingly making science a component of every industry, so we must make sure our leaders of tomorrow get the hands-on experience now to solve problems of the future,” said Constantinides.

Hydroponic labs are spaces where student can grow plant life without the use of soil and offer hands-on lessons on biology, ecology and agriculture. Studies have shown that students who physically experience scientific concepts are more likely understand them better.

This was apparent during Constantinides visit to P.S. 84 – Steinway, as grade-school children guided him through their new lab explaining the biology behind plant growth.

“These are the best lessons in life,” said P.S. 84 – Steinway Principal John Buffa. “[This] develops a love of learning because when children take ownership of their learning, they are going to take it from beginning to end.”

Besides teaching students to take responsibility for their own learning, hydroponic science labs teach children how to think sustainably. According to Manuela Zamora, the executive director of New York Sun Works, the nonprofit that built the hydroponic lab at P.S. 84, each school equipped with a lab also receives a curriculum with appropriate ways of teaching complex scientific concepts to depending on their age.

Zamora used ladybugs to exemplify this. If the plants P.S. 84 – Steinway become infested with a pest such as aphids, “[we] will bring in ladybugs who will eat the aphids so that we don’t have to use pesticides.” This creates a teachable moment about the harms of pesticides and alternative methods of pest removal.

New York Sun Works, offers curriculum for kindergarten through 12th grade.

The new lab represents a broader push by Constantinides to enhance science curriculum, educational technology and renewable energy in its schools. As chairman of the City Council’s Environmental Protection Committee, Constantinides has also allocated funding to cover STEM lab updates, solar panels. He also recently announced a push to have the city study how it can shut down gas-fire power plants across the five boroughs by the end of 2020.

But opening the plant at P.S. 84 – Steinway is more than just politics for the councilman; it’s also personal.

“This is repaying a debt,” said the councilman, an alum of the elementary school.

According to Constantinides, the New York Power Authority (NYPA) has agreed to fund the hydroponic lab at P.S. 84 – Steinway.

“NYPA has had preliminary conversations to discuss the possibility of giving programmatic support to schools in the councilman’s district that are near its power facility and meet further criteria,” said NYPA in an email to QNS. ” However, discussions are still ongoing with both NY Sun Works and the councilman’s office to identify which schools, in Queens as well as other areas of the city, can be supported in 2019.”