St. John, USVI – December 10, 2020 – During a socially distanced ceremony on December 9, 2020, Gifft Hill School in partnership with Island Green Living Association introduced the innovative Gifft Hill School Aquaponics Sponsored by Island Green Living. This agricultural system combines hydroponics (growing plants without soil) and aquaculture (raising fish). Gifft Hill School Aquaponics Sponsored by Island Green Living is powered by solar technology and uses minimal outside resources, only requiring food for the fish. The fish then provide the nutrients to help the plants grow in a symbiotic relationship. Students benefit from the adoption of STEM and nutritional curriculum that aims to connect students with their food sources.
“Gifft Hill School is committed to the kind of technology that works especially well here in St. John where both water and soil are limited. We are thankful for Island Green Living’s continued partnership in bringing this to fruition,” said Ken Mills, Head of School. “We are grateful for Harith Wickrema’s generous donation, which made this program a reality. In addition, Island Green’s support and collaboration over the years, including composting, community service opportunities and an externship which will launch in January, are invaluable.”
“Aquaponics is just the kind of experiential learning that makes Gifft Hill so special and the reason we sent my own daughter, Maya, to the school,” said David DiGiacomo, Vice President of Island Green. “Island Green is pleased to help make this programming a reality.”
“As part of Island Green’s sustainability mission, we are dedicated to advancing food security through expansion of community, school and home gardening,” said
Harith Wickrema, President of Island Green. “It was Ken’s vision to engage students hands-on, including assembling the aquaponics system, which inspired our support of the project. The ultimate goal is to have the territory’s 15,000+ students as “green ambassadors,” encouraging families territory-wide to grow at least a few vegetables at home, which could contribute toward our goal of food security.”
The crops harvested from the Gifft Hill School Aquaponics Sponsored by Island Green Living will be used in the school’s snack program and to supplement what is available to the St. John community.
Gifft Hill’s Environmental Science class, offered to 11th and 12th grade students, will take the lead in growing and maintaining the aquaponics system, but students in both middle school and upper school helped build it. Teachers and students across both the middle and upper schools will have access to the aquaponics systems and it will become a valuable piece of Gifft Hill School’s experiential learning curriculum. Aquaponics is a great way to teach nutrient cycles and an ideal entree into multiple scientific disciplines including botany, chemistry, engineering and water dynamics. Head of School Ken Mills, and Jennifer Sampsell, the science teacher, will be leading the classes using the system.
There are two types of growing options, vining plants such as tomatoes, cucumbers and squash, and deep well culture plants which typically include leafy greens. Gifft Hill is selecting plants that complement the crops that are currently grown on campus to expand the produce offered. The fish in the aquaponics system at Gifft Hill will be Blue Nile Tilapia. These fish were chosen because they are hearty and tolerant of changes to water temperature and water chemistry like varying oxygen levels. They are also fast growing which will help get the system up and running quickly.
Gifft Hill School is located on St. John, USVI serving students from St. John and St. Thomas from preschool through grade 12. The school’s mission is to educate, challenge, support, and empower students; igniting their passion for learning in preparation for college, careers, and their roles as stewards of our island and global community. We are committed to providing academic rigor through experiential learning within a compassionate community.