Figure 02. Middle school Urban Vertical Agriculture Research Scholars planning the building of the NFT system. (Photo Credit: Mauricio Gonzalez)In 2003, Mauricio Gonzalez, founder and director of the Marine Biology Research Program presently at the New York Harbor School, was put in charge of a greenhouse that had just been built in the courtyard of the Frederick Douglass Academy (FDA), Harlem, NYC. Shortly before this, he had been running a small germination project in his classroom to teach his students the basics of experimentation and life science. Mauricio recounts spending his meager new-teacher paycheck on these materials while barely making the rent for the month.
Freshly out of college and with an appetite for innovation, he was hoping to be given the opportunity to run the greenhouse when he first caught glimpse of it during a tour of the school grounds. Mr. Hearn, then science chair at FDA, took notice of Mauricio’s passion for science and early success with an after school program called “Schwartz Science.” Over the span of 6 years, Mauricio’s students transformed the greenhouse and courtyard into a thriving Urban Vertical Agriculture Research Program, yearly producing basil, lettuce, tomatoes, and tilapia. The techniques used to grow these vegetables and fish were novel for New York City at the time. Hydroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics were new words for most. Mauricio realized that the science of hydroponics made for a great middle through high school inquiry-based curriculum.
His middle school students built intricate recirculating systems called “NFT” which stands for Nutrient Film technique; A-Frame structures; and recirculating aquaculture systems. They soon began experimenting with all kinds of novel designs and presenting them at yearly science fairs. Curious visitors from all over NYC came to visit: small scale urban gardeners to the mayor himself, Bloomberg. They all came to see our young team of budding urban scientists carefully weighing and mixing their nutrient chemicals and adjusting pH using acids, bases, and professional grade sensors.
Not content with just working in the greenhouse, his students tuned their gaze outside and built a beautiful elevated garden in the courtyard equipped with a wrap-around, fully automatic irrigation system. Projects like these gave rise to the idea of engaging young minds with real-world service learning projects. Mauricio also realized that given the right space and time, all students could find a way to succeed. With these successes came offers to build gardens around Harlem and nursing homes as part of a service learning grant from Purdue University. What started off as a small classroom experiment turned into a thriving laboratory of plant science and student inquiry. Mr. Hearn later recounted that “putting Mr. Gonzalez at the helm of the greenhouse was the best decision he had made at FDA.” To see more images of our students at work click here. Our next post will showcase the marine science and air quality work undertaken by these scholars to address problems outside the school itself.
These projects were made possible by the generous support of our sponsors, Mr. Robert Schwartz, The Hayden Foundation, Purdue University’s EPICS engineering grant, and Cabbage Hill Farm.
The goal of our COVID-19 project is to measure air quality around New York City and the New England Area by using a new device known as an “air quality egg” near students’ homes https://airqualityegg.com/home. With such data, air quality can be compared in real time which leads to the brainstorming and creation of many smaller student-led research projects. We have successfully installed EGGs in two states, all five boroughs, and soon, two countries! Students will process their data and answer their own inquiry question. We will meet on Wednesdays through Google Meet and Gather.town. Students will assume leadership roles and manage the project. The younger students learn teamwork and leadership skills virtually. A new virtual reality platform called Gather.town will be used that visually demonstrates the MBRP classroom setting, such as including our main lab, garden, and green room. Gather.town helps us efficiently get into breakout groups that the facilitator and team leaders can travel between quickly. More detailed information on our data will be forthcoming. See the images below for a virtual image of MBRP lab120.
Team Air Benders
So far our group has gone over the basics of a peer review journal article and how to find a reliable one. Most of my group is composed of sophomore’s so we have a lot of fresh faces that are new to our procedures in the Marine Biology Research Program and SEALs. So we got to discuss finding accurate journal articles as well as things we wanted to implement going further a as team.
Our team, ConEd, has come up with a rough question on how we can compare particulates in our air before and after the pandemic. We’re currently working on making the question more specific. We have been reviewing multiple peer review journal articles to get a better understanding on what particulate matter we want to focus on. We have seen in numerous articles that there has been a decline in air pollutants, like particulate Matter (PM).
Our question: How is the human body impacted by particulate matter and how do the effects differ between the 5 boroughs? What we have done so far: refine our question and get some peer reviewed articles. What we have planned: Looking further into peer reviewed journals, begin looking and testing data quality.
Scholars: Kate, Marifer , Maddie, Sebastian, Dakota, Jaylen, Julia, Anna, Arlo, Dayanara, Aelish, Nicholas, Prophet
Facilitator: Mauricio (NYHS)
Technician: Natan (BMCC)
Industry Sponsor: ConEdison
Internship Host Organization: Hudson River Foundation
Post-Secondary Partner: BMCC
Cindy Isidoro, Intermediate Marine Research scholar, has begun executing an experiment to test for the effects of various natural/organic fertilizers on the health of radish plants. One of her treatments is compost tea, a brewed mixture created with compost from food scraps at the New York Harbor School and live water from the recirculating aquaculture systems in the Marine Science lab where we grow Tilapia. Cindy will compare the performance of the plants with this tea, plain compost, and plain soil, among other treatments. This project is critical in order to understand new agricultural technologies that address food and environmental justice. As organic products are increasingly sought after to avoid agro-business’ questionable food safety practices and environmental degradation caused by over fertilization with industrial chemicals, compost tea may be a solution for a better planet and healthier lives. Stay tuned for her results! We’d like to thank our awesome project partners and Professional Advisory Committee members from Earth Matter, Infinitae Stockton, Marisa DeDominicis, and Andrea Lieske for all their support!
Career and Technical Education (CTE) and Work-Based Learning at the New York Harbor School has just raised the bar! Marine Biology Research (MBRP) scholars Nicolle Martinez and Tahirah Abdo will be graduating with 8 SUNY Albany research college credits, a CTE technical endorsement in Natural Resources Management, first and second awards at the NYC Science and Engineering Fair, and attend Ivy league and top colleges with full scholarships! This is testimony to both team work, as their projects were supported by the whole MBRP team, and their own personal leadership and ambition. In total, our MBRP senior scholars have received to-date over USD 500, 000 in scholarships, have participated in internships around the city, presented at regional and national conferences, and worked with leading marine scientists to complete their research – all while leading research efforts to find solutions for the restoration of the Hudson-Raritan Estuary. Thank you to all our Professional Advisory Committee members, University & Industry Partners, the NY Harbor School Staff, the NY Harbor Foundation, and family members for all your support!
On May 15, more than 46 research projects went on display for the 3rd annual New York Harbor School Science Symposium. Our keynote speaker, Dr. Peter Morawski from the NIH, said, “I was so happy to have been a part of it! You’ve got some great kids!” Parents, Staff, Professional Advisory Committee members, Marine Research Scholars, and over 20 guests from the Netherlands came together to help make this symposium a success. Our school administration and Custodial staff provided key logistical support. Thanks a million! For more details, award winners, and images of the Symposium click here. For our Symposium Booklet with a summary of the projects click here: NYHS Symposium Program
In 2014, for the first time in the history of the New York Harbor School, two of our senior marine research scholars were selected to compete in New York City’s most prestigious science and engineering competition – the New York City Science and Engineering Fair. On Sunday, March 2nd, CTE’s Marine Biology Research student Pablo Jimenez represented our school when he competed against the top research students around New York City. When asked what he liked most about the fair Pablo said, “it was a pleasure to get to speak to so many enthusiastic young science scholars.” The Finals will be held at the American Museum of Natural History later this March. A big shout out to Pablo for extending the Harbor School’s quality of science. Another shout out to the seniors of the Marine Biology Research Program for preparing Pablo for the presentation phase of his project. Also, thanks to the Aquaculture class for providing the oysters that Pablo used for experimentation. These oysters were unharmed and returned to their natural environment.
The 10th grade Introductory Marine Research students have gotten off to a great start. In order to develop critical thinking and project management skills, the young scholars have completed the Scientific Method Stick and Wind Racer challenges. In addition, they have received instruction on keeping a research journal, research portfolio as well as how to manage digital data. They are now ready to embark on their next marine research chapter: Aquatic Ecology! Stay tuned for more great accomplishments and a short video of these future marine scientists!