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Learning about Proper Nutrition with Our Hands and Our Brains at a Virgin Islands High School

Last September I visited Ivanna Eudora Kean High School in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, to observe a unique outdoor “classroom.” At the far end of the school parking lot, a small group of students were carefully testing the pH and temperature of bubbling water in bright blue tanks that contained hundreds of tiny tilapia fish hatchlings. And just a few feet away another group of stu­dents were proudly tending the seedlings of lettuce, pumpkin, car­rots and other herbs and vegetables thriving in the aquaponic farm.

Students at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School prepare to harvest fully-grown tilapia fish from the school hatchery under the watchful eye of aquaponics science teacher Kirk Lewis (right) and two chefs from Chartwell’s Dining Service.

I marveled at how teacher Kirk Lewis, the creator of this new and very popular science course, had created a fully-functional vegetable farm and fish hatchery where students learn practical skills. Students harvest the tilapia when fully-grown and prepare them, along with the bounty of vegetables, to supplement the fresh food offerings in Kean’s cafeteria.

Kean student Clemon Lewis explained the process of how nutrient-rich water from the fish tanks is pumped to the floating garden and gleaned by the vegetables’ long root strands, saying proudly, “We’re learning with our hands as much as with our brains.”

With expert instruction from two chefs of Chartwell’s Dining Service, a company contracted by the VI Department of Education, the students learned how to safely harvest and filet the tilapia. The fresh filets were then sent to the school’s culinary arts class for cooking and taste- testing. 

Executive Chef Jennifer Brower from Chartwell’s Dining Service instructs students on how to safely filet and prepare tilapia. The fresh fish filets will be used to create a fish taco recipe for the school lunch menu.

Mr. Lewis hopes the aquaponics facility will be a thriving, self-sustaining venture, its bounty sold to local residents and perhaps even visiting cruise ships. His students are not only learning marine biology, chemistry, and cooking, but also business: developing, marketing, and selling food.

Lewis says, “I hope some of these kids, af­ter attending an institute of higher learning, will remember some of these lessons and become agriculture entrepreneurs here in the Virgin Islands.”

This unique approach to learning has become a very smart way to incorporate healthy eating into the high school’s daily routine. And now, students and staff at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School are enjoying the newest menu item: healthy fish tacos, along with super fresh and tasty veggies grown in the science laboratory at the far end of the parking lot.

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