A hydroponics lab and community garden at Emerson Middle School in Union City has been awarded NJSBA’s 2018 School Leader award.  The School Leader Awards, which are presented each year, showcase creative programs from New Jersey schools.

The Union City EMS Hydroponics Lab and Community Garden Student Sanctuary Program was started in 2015. It involves students from various grade levels in growing food in an indoor hydroponic garden; in addition an outdoor garden was developed to serve as a sanctuary for students.

Students of all grade levels work in the gardens for a couple of hours each week. Some have even begun hydroponic gardens in their own homes.

The cooperation and interaction between all stakeholders has increased student achievement, surpassing expected outcomes and reduced student and faculty absenteeism. The number of student behavioral issues has also been reduced. To date, close to 15,000 pounds of produce have been grown and donated to the local food pantry.

The hydroponics laboratory has also impacted the way science is taught at Emerson Middle School. It has motivated the students, energized the teachers and enhanced the curriculum.

In addition, the program has had an overwhelmingly positive reception from the Union City community, according to the award nomination. Community members have become more aware of and involved with the school’s daily curricular routines.

School Leader Award entries are judged on the level of innovation, how well the program addresses specific needs of the students, the relationship of the program to the state’s curriculum standards, and results.  Programs must be in place for two full years to qualify.

The program, one of 12 exemplary programs nominated for the School Leader Award this year, will be recognized during a ceremony at NJSBA Workshop 2018 being held on Oct. 23 at the Atlantic City Convention Center.