Gentry High School Becomes Conversion Charter School And Adds New Aquaponics System

GENTRY (KFSM) –  Gentry High School is now a conversion charter school.

Superintendent Randy Barrett said they wanted to have a better balance between preparing students for college and preparing them to go into the workforce.

Barrett told us he realized that not all students will go on to get higher education, so they're partnering with McKee Foods to offer students other skills and options.

“Whether they go to a trade school or whether they go to work. We understand they we need to be preparing them for life,” Barrett said.

The school district is also asking voters to increase their millage during the school election on Tuesday (Sept. 20).

The money will go toward building a diesel technician's building and to renovate the intermediate school.

The school district is also expanding its agriculture program as part of that push to offer students more options after they graduate.

The school had an aquaponics system installed in their greenhouse on Thursday (Sept. 15).

Aquaponics is a system that combines growing plants and cultivating fish. The miniature ecosystem recirculates water so that one feeds the other.

“The wastewater from the fish provides all the nutrients that the plants will need to grow and in turn the plants help purify and filter the water for when we send it back to the fish tank. So it`s an integrated system that you get a dual benefit off of,” Symbiotic Aquaponic CEO Kaben Smallwood said.

Smallwood said the system is not labor-intensive like traditional agriculture.

“It essentially has the same backwash function as a swimming pool," Smallwood said. "The only thing that will be required for maintenance other than planting, harvesting and feeding the fish will be turning a dial from filter to backwash and that is what will clean the system for you.”

In about a month there will be lettuce growing that the students can eat and their hope is to expand what they grow to use on their salad bar.

Agriculture teacher Wendy Jackson said she's excited to see this project come together and the opportunities it will afford her students.

“The greenhouse class will be able to come out here and hands-on learn both the traditional side of greenhouse with the dirt and then start it out in the aquaponics and move it to the dirt,” Jackson said.

Other agriculture classes will also be involved. Jackson said they'll help make projections on what they can bring in with a spring plant sell and how much money the district is saving in the cafeteria by growing its own vegetables.

And the fish will also be put to good use.

“We’ll have fish fries or we can actually try to market the fish themselves and market them as meat. Let the animal science classes actually do some dissection and processing of the meat,” she said.

Seeds were planted Thursday (Sept. 15) so in 24 hours they should be able to see the lettuce sprouting.

The students plan to stock their tanks with catfish tomorrow (Sept. 16) from a hatchery in Centerton.

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1 Comment

  • Al Lemke

    This is a great idea. About 20% of our Gross domestic product is derived from Agriculture. 17% is from health care and Gentry finally has the opportunity to modify the curriculum to address the student needs in these fields in addition to the diesel mechanics school.
    Good job!