Growing lettuce is harder than Eden Guirard realized, the Episcopal fifth-grader said Feb. 5, standing in front of lush, green heads of varying sizes growing in a hydroponic system she and classmates Joshua Gregoire and Crawford Grigsby constructed.
Their teacher, Sonny James, guided them as part of a fifth-grade science class project.
A lot of things went wrong before they figured it out, Guirard said.
But it was the successes that brought the students before the Episcopal High student body Feb. 6, presenting their results in a presentation in the school’s Visual and Performing Arts Center.
They took turns explaining the trial-and-error process of setting up the hydroponic system, feeding the plants with a liquid solution of nutrients and constantly monitoring the conditions of the system to make sure they fell within acceptable parameters.
“We went out and read the temperature and pH and TDS (total dissolved solids in the nutrient mixture),” Grigsby said.
“Only, one time, we had to check TDS in the freezing cold, while it was raining,” Gregoire added.
It was then that the fifth-grade class decided to ask for help from the senior honors thesis program, and the collaborative effort became part of the presentation.
Seniors Monty Travis and Kendall Ravey devised and installed remote sensors to test for all the things the students had to test manually, along with wireless capability to send the data to a computer set up in James’ warm, dry classroom.
The results of this cross-curricular and multigrade effort eventually will benefit the entire school. Their periodic harvests — 36 heads of lettuce so far — supplement the Episcopal School salad bar.
“That’s pretty impressive, to me,” James said.
Guirard said she does not grow lettuce at home. “I’m mostly interested in hydroponic systems,” she said.
The project was presented to the EHS student body as part of its Senior Launch Day, a relatively new event on campus that showcases the best work of senior students, said Scott Engholm, who has been teaching at Episcopal for seven years.
While seniors have long presented their academic projects as part of the senior honors thesis program at the school, Engholm said, the students within the program decided to invite all disciplines, including performing and visual arts, athletics, and the entrepreneurship and engineering programs, to present their best work.
The honors graduates of the class of 2014 wanted to emphasize all student achievement, both academic and extracurricular.
But it did begin, Engholm said, with the honors thesis program, which sophomores can apply to be part of starting their junior year. Those accepted into the honors program begin searching for an independent thesis project during their junior year and work up to the showcase on Launch Day during their senior year.
It is totally student-driven, Engholm said, in every aspect from the research project selection to the planning and execution of the Launch Day, itself.
The seniors who don’t opt to present a thesis project themselves organize and plan the event, which stretches across the campus, with groups of high school students divided up into smaller groups that rotate locations every 20 minutes. This allows students to view more than one presentation over the two-day program.
“We even have the juniors volunteer to run things on the day of so the seniors who planned the event can relax and enjoy everything,” he said.
Head of Schools Hugh McIntosh said he is continually impressed by the ideas generated by students every year and said it comes from looking at students as individuals.
“It’s the kind of personalized education we like to promote here,” he said.