Quincy Swatson poses for a photo by aquaponic fish tanks.
Quincy Swatson (center, with white shirt) is the founder of The Door Campaign, which works to provide STEM experiences (like aquaponics) in urban classroom settings. With him are, front row from left, teacher Vincent Vernacchio, Luis Gil, Taeshaun Farris, Mr. Swatson, Shane Woodhall; back row: Carlee Redding, Isabella Romano, Michaela Koch, Dorrian Butler, Jordan English.
Aquaponic tanks in a Brasher High School classroom.
By Natalie Bencivenga / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
#BeTheChange: Quincy Swatson, founder and executive director of The Door Campaign, formed in 2013, has had a penchant and passion for being an agent of change for quite some time. Recognizing the importance of students in urban settings becoming more involved with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), he wanted to bring those ideas in tangible ways to the classrooms around Pittsburgh.
“I was really passionate about urban agriculture, but wanted to find ways to combine it with education so that students could see sustainable ways of improving their own communities while enhancing employable skills,” he said. Mr. Swatson, 25, of the North Side, wanted to open doors for young people and invest in their success. The Door Campaign was born. I visited Brashear High School in Beechview recently to see what his organization is doing to engage students — specifically using aquaponics, the combination of aquaculture and hydroponics in which farmed fish provide nutrients for plants grown in water.
When I sat down to chat with the ninth-graders in Vincent Vernacchio’s class, I expected to have to pull answers out of them, but instead, they excitedly talked about their experiences. “This whole process of seeing how it works makes science more interesting to me,” said Isabella Romano, 15. “I thought this would be so cool and getting to be exposed to these kinds of hands-on experiments in the classroom makes me realize so many things are possible,” added Taeshaun Farris, 15.
The goal of aquaponics in the classroom reaches beyond just a class project, instead opening students’ eyes to understanding the real-life implications of science and how these systems could be used to end hunger and food waste, while showing them career opportunities. “Everyone was concerned about eating food that we grew without soil, but understanding the ecosystems around it really helped them to gain a deeper knowledge of biology and ecology,” said Mr. Vernacchio.
Mr. Swatson plans on expanding the curriculum and places where students can engage with aquaponics in the classroom, right now working in seven schools including Propel Braddock, Pittsburgh Perry and Manchester Academic Charter School. What’s next? A partnership with Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens including an aquaponics exhibit. “This journey is about stepping into a new role in the community and recognizing that we have to invest in ourselves and each other if we want Pittsburgh to flourish for the next generation coming up.”
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