harper STEM labW

Harper Junior High School teacher Brian Donnelly explains to students — from left, Grant Aboytes, Zainub Balla and Sabreen Rashmawi — how the solar panels will power the pond's water pump system at the Harper garden. Courtesy photo

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Vote early and often for Harper outdoor STEM lab grant

Harper Junior High School has qualified as a finalist for a $15,000 grant from PG&E and The NEED project. This multi-step process has narrowed applicants down to three California schools, with the winner to be determined by public vote and announced on Friday, May 2.

“The Davis community is called to support this opportunity and bring funds into the school district in support of an outdoor STEM lab, which includes completion of the aquaponics system and construction of a greenhouse/lath house as well as human-powered water pumps for irrigation,” said Carrie Juchau, the Davis RISE and school garden coordinator at Harper.

Voting began Friday and will continue until 6 p.m. Friday, May 2. Everyone may vote once a day per electronic device, at http://pge.need.org/biggerbrightideas#Harper.

Harper’s goal is to expand its program to become a hands-on student educational farm and living STEM laboratory (science, technology, engineering and math) for the entire community, Juchau said. This resource will be utilized by all of the Davis schools plus students at UC Davis and Woodland Community College.

“Our long-term goal is to become a leading national model in STEM and the garden-based learning movement,” she added. “Our proximity to the state capital allows us to partner with community leaders to impact educational change and connect school gardens to the new Common Core standards.”

The idea for developing a fully contained rainwater-capture aquaponics and solar-powered pumping system was sparked by two regional education initiatives — the Los Rios Community College District’s “Green Force” project and the California Environmental Education Foundation’s teacher institute facilitated through the Yolo County Office of Education.

As a participant in both programs, Brian Donnelly, the STEM program coordinator at Harper, and Ken Mckim, a science teacher at Harper, brainstormed some possibilities for a project proposal that could be submitted to PG&E’s “Bright Ideas” competition.

Donnelly formalized a proposal that resulted in an initial grant of $10,000. Last month, PG&E contacted Donnelly and invited Harper to apply for a second continuation round of funding to help fully realize the goal of building the outdoor STEM learning lab.

One example of a project in progress that demonstrates this collaboration is the Pedal Power Project. Juchau, Donnelly and teacher Alex Hess have assembled three teams of students from the UCD mechanical engineering department, Davis High School agriculture classes and Harper drafting classes to cross-age teach each other to build bicycle-powered water pumps. These pumps, in turn, will be used to irrigate Harper’s school farm.

Harper has collected 5,800 gallons of water to date off of the L Wing buildings, Juchau said.

Harper’s agriculture biology class uses the school farm regularly, observing and demonstrating live examples of the photosynthesis process, harvesting worm castings to add nitrogen to the soil, identifying tools and their proper use, and hosting multiple ag projects where students gain hands-on experience in crop production and management.

“Students not only learn the practical skills, but gain understanding of responsibility and how to evaluate data from their project results,” Juchau said. “Additionally, the school farm is used by DHS FFA leadership teams to learn the identification of vegetables, weeds, insects and seedlings.”

Harper’s art classes are researching artist styles and designing a mural that will be painted on the school garden shed wall. Teacher Sue Banducci organized the mural process as if it were a real design job and students have spent weeks researching mural production, mural design and fine artists for inspiration.

Ceramics classes are also working on mosaic stepping stones that will be installed around the ecology pond.

“If you take a moment to visit the 3-acre site located behind Harper Junior High you will see the beginnings of an outdoor learning lab where real-world-based educational experiences, central to the new Common Core academic standards, are flourishing,” Juchau said.

“In many respects, what you will discover is an exciting example of what can happen when real collaboration between teachers, students, civic leaders and educational and business partners takes place.”

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