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Photo: Mark Hallum/QNS
Diego Telechea has taken a lead role in maintaining St. Matthias' new hydroponics lab.

St. Matthias Catholic Academy in Ridgewood got a great deal of attention for their new STEM lab, which they showed off during a celebration on Jan. 28 for the successful launch of its hydroponics program.

But the real centerpiece was the students who were happily engaged in learning about plants and bugs while looking through microscopes and constructing new devices to nurture vegetation to adulthood.

Diego Telechea, one of the student leaders on St. Matthias’ Green Team, knows the lab backwards and forwards since it was introduced to the students in September and has seen the now 6-foot-tall tomato and cucumber plants sprout from seeds planted in what is known as rockwool, an alternative to using soil.

“It’s surprising how they can grow with no soil; I’ve never seen this method before,” Telechea said. “Nobody really knew what a hydroponics lab was when it was first introduced to us at the beginning of the school year. Eventually, as the lab became a little bit more advanced, we learned – we are still learning – what a hydroponics lab is.”

The seventh-grader has become emotionally invested in many of the plants, as have many of the students who take pride in the success of their creation, he said.

A student observes a leaf grown in St. Matthias’ hydroponics lab through a microscope. Mark Hallum/QNS

According to St. Matthias Principal Barbara Wehnes, when agricultural disasters struck the lab, such as mold, the students were able to address the problems and avoid them in the future without further instruction.

The hydroponics lab not only offers city kids the chance to watch vegetables go from seedling to salad, even the students who have no interest in science or other academics are finding a place in the new lab which only cost the school around $30,000 – not bad for launching a new programs, said Wehnes.

One student who Wehnes says is enjoys cooking more than studying even got involved with the lab when he decided to start making cucumbers growing in the lab into pickles. He began studying the brining process and is trying to make his own cookbook.

After nearly four months of learning hydroponics, the Green Team was given the honors of cutting the ribbon on the new lab. Photo: Mark Hallum/QNS

The new program was brought to the school through New York Sun Works’ Greenhouse Project which helps K-12 schools establishing this program which is considered to be a driver in future food production.

St. Matthias also educates students on 3-D printing, Wehnes said, and the majority of the plants grown in the hydroponics lab is edible such as kale, arugula, mint and basil.

The ribbon cutting – which was not a ribbon but a band of rosemary – was attended by Councilman Antonio Reynoso and Deputy Brooklyn Borough President Diana Reyna.

“How we’re going to deal with hunger in the future starts in this room,” Reyna said.

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