New aquaponics project at MCHS features microplants and fish

McHenry Community High School’s AP Environmental Science classes and Environmental Club students are taking a dive into the sustainable farming system of aquaponics by installing a new system – complete with fish – in the school’s newly built greenhouse.

Students are testing the water to see how the project can grow to become a regular part of the high school’s science curriculum.

The intricate system has been up and running for a few weeks and, so far, it is yielding an interesting learning experience for students on how plants can grow without soil. In aquaponics, plants are grown in a raft on top of circulating water. Nutrients are provided by fish waste that is then filtered through to the plants. The plants then clean the water, which goes back to the fish container.

“It’s kind of a nice, self-sustaining system,” said Kaley Freund, AP Environmental Science instructor and advisor of the school’s Environmental Club. “We’re hoping next year to incorporate it even more with the curriculum.”

They currently have 15 tilapia fish, but next year they may get as many as 100 smaller fish. Freund said students are experimenting with different types of seeds and this year planted herbs and greens.

Tim Beagle, AP Environmental Science instructor and division chair, said the greenhouse is perfect for the aquaponics system. The greenhouse was part of the newly built Center for Science, Technology and Industry at McHenry High School’s Upper Campus. 

It is a unique learning experience for students, he said.

“This was a great opportunity and space to do aquaponics,” Beagle told the student-produced Warrior Weekly broadcast news show. “Especially in Illinois, high schools around us don’t do aquaponics.”

Junior Jakub Pietkiewicz has been a driving force behind the program, Beagle said. 

To learn more, check out the Warrior Weekly student news report here.