AJA Receives Grant for New Environmental Education Space

AJA Receives Grant for New Environmental Education Space

When a group of National Honor Society students, including Joey Ross and Sammy Eisenberg, noticed the need at AJA, they pushed for a greenhouse and garden to be funded and built. Credit: Stacey Eisenberg.

By Joseph Ross

When the Austin Jewish Academy announced the construction of a new Science and Innovation Center at the 2013 science fair, nobody could have imagined how the building’s programs would change AJA. What was once a small portable has been transformed into a workshop and laboratory with its own science and engineering classes that have touched the lives of students and inspired them to explore the endless possibilities that lay ahead of them in the realm of sciences, engineering and mathematics.

A large part of the STEM curriculum is focused on environmental education. Whether it be the effects of certain molecules on the environment, habitats and ecosystems, or even the weather, almost everything that goes on at the Science and Innovation Center is focused on teaching the middle school to be environmentally conscious.

When a select group of students in the National Junior Honor Society noticed that there was a need to expand upon AJA’s environmental education, they pushed for a greenhouse and garden to be funded and built. The nascent project had been but a dream, and the students only hoped for a small greenhouse, but because of the generosity of the Rockowitz Family, Treva and Dr. Jeff Horwitz, Dr. Kenneth Horwitz and Barbara Horwitz, and many more community donations, students were able to dream bigger, and the Noah E. Rockowitz Greenhouse and Environmental Education Center was constructed for AJA.

These outdoor initiatives have been a major success, with many AJA students participating in several new greenhouse projects. Since the dedication of the greenhouse, AJA has installed solar heaters, vertical gardens and raised garden beds. There is also an aquaponics system and several themed gardens, and students have conducted nearly twenty independent varieties of science experiments.

Students in this year’s business-turned-grant-writing elective course believed that they could add to the meaningful nature of the environmental education program if AJA students became aware of global environmental issues prior to entering fifth grade. In this class, the students generated a brilliant idea—create a sustainable garden in the education building so that younger students could have access to their very own garden. In turn, the teachers would find it easier to encourage students in their excitement to solve our world’s problems in a much closer garden.

After research into what students could use to construct a garden on the balcony outside the school library and transform dreams into a reality, students sent applications and inquiries to companies seeking partners that would support the project. At the end of March 2019, students found a partner in the Whole Kids Foundation, which awarded the students’ application and agreed to donate $2,000 to AJA’s environmental education programs. Because of their generosity and the hard work of a few eighth graders, AJA is able to provide yet another resource for inspiring students to change the world.

When considering students’ hope for this garden, organizers came up with three main ideas they would like to incorporate into the project. Firstly and most importantly, the space will be used for all types of classes across the school, like art, mathematics, science, history and health classes. A requirement for the garden grant was to have an edible garden, and the garden might grow fruits, vegetables, or roots that AJA students may have never tried before. Thirdly, the garden will be as sustainable as possible in order to promote environmental education.

The garden will allow for students to take part in helping make their planet livable, and thus have the knowledge about the environment from a young age, which will help society when they grow up to become the leaders at school and eventually out in the nation and world. ■

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