It started as a trip to Starbucks — but not for a caffeine fix.

Jennifer LeGault, a science teacher at Gateway to Success Academy, was looking for coffee grounds to grow fungus with.

LeGault’s fungus wouldn’t be the only science experiment to come out of that trip. Chit-chat with the managers led to a partnership between her students and the coffee chain to create a garden in a wetland behind the store.

“They don’t know anybody in this area, and so I was like, ‘This would be a good partnership to get to know the schools,’” LeGault said.

LeGault’s students have spent recent weeks experimenting with sustainable gardening practices. That way, they’ll know what works best when they draft a 3D model of the garden in two weeks for Starbucks to consider.

On Monday morning, 11th graders in LeGault’s physical science class repurposed materials into two approaches to an aquaponic system: a media bed and a deep water culture.

In an aquaponic system, fish and other aquatic animals nourish the plants through their waste. Hydroponic systems require nutrients introduced manually, as the plants grow without soil.

Students will test some raised-bed gardening techniques next Monday. In previous weeks, they looked at hydroponics and artificial bee hives called “bee hotels.”

Project coordinator Erica Karmeisool gathered water bottles, egg trays, sticky foam pads, a plastic cookie container and other materials for the projects.

“Most of it came out of the recycle bin,” Karmeisool said. “Any little gizmo or gadget that is destined for the landfill … I save them all.”

Ninth and 10th graders from LeGault’s earth science class are also contributing to the project. Earth science students focus more on the materials and presentation of the garden, while physical science students focus more on measuring and analyzing ultraviolet radiation.

Students are free to develop aspects of the garden that interest them, which in the case of the aquaponics activity, led two students to work on the system well into their lunch period. On the basis of a duck pattern on his shirt, LeGault encouraged one to think about how ducks could be incorporated into the garden.

Starbucks store manager Ramani McKelvey hopes the garden will open opportunities for community engagement. Teachers could bring students to learn about agriculture and sustainable living, but she hopes it can also be “a beautiful place where people can just come, sit and enjoy the garden itself.”

McKelvey is working with her district manager and regional manager to determine who all needs to be looped into the plan to develop the wetland. She is also in communication with the landlord to determine who owns the area in the first place.

“If for some reason it doesn’t work out for whatever logistic reason, we’re going to look for other ways to get as involved as we can,” McKelvey said.

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