Growing Community in the Greenhouse

Hydroponics has been a relatively new elective at Francis Lewis High School and has only been around since last year. The massive change that the school made this year was relocating the program to the newly built annex building and allocating an entire greenhouse to the building. The greenhouse consists of a green glass-covered room with animals and even a spa for turtles! While students in the hydroponics program use the greenhouse, not much is known by the school regarding what is being done in hydroponics and the impact of this program on school and student life.

“It’s not really the same structure as a class; we’re not sitting down [being lectured],” Ryan Huang, a graduating senior at FLHS, said. He joined hydroponics out of curiosity and a recommendation from his AP Psychology teacher. “I like having the freedom to choose what I want to do for the day, and the jobs change. It’s not as boring as a normal class would be, [where you] have to sit down and learn the same thing. Here you decide what you want to do, and it is what we make of it.”

In the hydroponics class, there are no rows, columns of desks, and chairs—just lots of shelves adorned with healthy, leafy greens. Students seem to have really taken a liking to the course, like Huang, who is so excited to come to class that he returns in his free time.

“[I have class] period three, but I’m [also] here period six since it’s my free,” Huang said. “Because I like this class a lot, it’s one of my favorite classes.”

Hydroponics isn’t just any “different” program; it has shaped FLHS students to embrace changes that would allow them to become the best version of themselves.

“It definitely changed me to be more open and willing to teach others,” said Manpreet Kaur, a senior who originally joined in order to work on her studies for the science research program. “Before coming to this class, I was more closed off, and I didn’t really try to test my abilities. I was just trying to get by every day. It [hydroponics] makes me feel like I can dedicate myself and see something grow in real time—I see all my efforts coming together.”

Whether students take the course with purpose or not, they end up loving the course regardless, discovering new interests they were previously unaware of.

“Honestly, I was looking through the programs when I was about to join the school, and I saw hydroponics,” Rebecca Yuk, a freshman at FLHS, explained. “So I was like, ‘Okay, this seems interesting. I’ll try it out.’ So I applied for it, and I got in! I feel like it really impacted my views on things. I feel a lot closer to nature. I feel like I’m caring more about little things like plants, and I’ve been less scared to touch animals than I used to be.”

Mr. Schwartz, a hydroponics teacher, agrees with his student’s assessment of the program. 

“I think it’s a great thing for people to learn because you could do it at home and it doesn’t use a lot of water,” said Schwartz. “[Also,] it could be used all over the world; It could be indoors or outdoors.”

Mr. Schwartz has created an environment that allows his students to grow freely and comfortably while also understanding the importance of routine and care when growing plants and caring for animals.

“To be in hydroponics, you really have to be consistent. You have to consistently take care of the thing.” Kaur explained.  “Each day, despite the laughter or finding a comfortable spot to chatter, students are still constantly running around, between the greenhouse and lab rooms, and getting their hands dirty in order to check up on the plants and animals to make sure they are nourished properly.”

Philip Kim, a freshman with the growing ambition to become a botanist, agreed that hydroponics involves work ethic.

“You need to be productive, you need to work with others, and you mostly need to pay attention.”

Despite challenges such as plants dying, Mr. Schwartz said students should not feel discouraged if they are thinking about applying to the program.

“Try. Just try it. Don’t wait,” said Schwartz. “The worst thing that could happen is that your plants die. But you try it again. Everyone—anyone that has grown things—has killed things. You figure out how to do it [hydroponics].”