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Regency Park Elementary students sow seeds for hydroponic garden business

Michael DiVittorio
| Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, 2:48 p.m.
Fifth-grade students Gianna Riggins, Danica Jones, Sierra Hunter and Hailey Sapp tend to the more than 100 strawberry plants they started at Regency Park Elementary in Plum.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune-Review
Fifth-grade students Gianna Riggins, Danica Jones, Sierra Hunter and Hailey Sapp tend to the more than 100 strawberry plants they started at Regency Park Elementary in Plum.
Sixth-graders Bella Zilko and Breanna Hackett work on the design for a logo for the company started by students at Regency Park Elementary in Plum.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune-Review
Sixth-graders Bella Zilko and Breanna Hackett work on the design for a logo for the company started by students at Regency Park Elementary in Plum.

Regency Park Elementary students have planted the seeds of entrepreneurship as fifth- and sixth-graders launch their first business.

Regency Grows Co. is being developed through the Edible Classroom at the school. The classroom was created as a central hydroponic garden a few years ago for the Plum school's 250 students.

Each grade plants something different, and classroom lessons focus on learning about plants and their health benefits.

Student business coordinator and first-grade teacher J.R. Pilyih said the program expanded this year to develop a student-driven business through a $1,000 grant from San Diego-based Real World Scholars, and a $5,000 grant from the Grainger Foundation for solar panels and other technology.

According to the Real World Scholars' website , the group helps students “leverage their own curiosity, creativity, and entrepreneurial thinking to solve problems, make connections, and become contributors to their communities.”

“When we saw that, we saw the opportunity to make it work,” Pilyih said about RWS. “It's a little unique. A lot of the businesses that they do are kids making things like blankets or puzzles.”

He said 22 students were split into three teams.

The agricultural team planted 100 strawberries and is breeding tilapia as part of the project. The technology team works with tools to gather data, and the business team is tasked with creating a logo and marketing the shop.

“It's kind of fun because I'm with a bunch of friends that I know,” said sixth-grader Bella Zilko, 11.

Bella and fellow sixth-grader Breanna Hackett, 11, are on the business team. Their logo features the letters R and G separated by a plant stem and encapsulated in a red circle.

“I think we're going to sell a lot of what we make,” said Breanna. “We could get another hydroponic table.”

Breanna said starting a company is more enjoyable than taking tests or listening to lectures.

“You don't have to sit still as long, and you get to do a lot of different things,” Breanna said.

Regency Grows Co. has two agendas:

• Teach students about agriculture, life skills and how to run a business.

• Make money for the classroom and other projects by selling things to the school cafeteria, and general public if possible.

“This is not a big business,” Pilyih said. “This is not going to make a lot of money. It's not about that.”

Hailey Sapp and Sierra Hunter, both 10 and in fifth grade, are on the agriculture team.

“I like when we put the plants in and grow them and watch them grow,” Hailey said. “It's fun to look at. It's going to help us by improving the school to get new equipment that we need and all this other stuff.”

Regency's hydroponic system uses water and fish waste to supply nutrients to plants instead of soil.

Sierra said her team needs to know all about that method to harvest the best strawberries.

“We're learning how much ammonia is in the water for the fish, how much nitrates are in the water,” she said. “Their waste goes into that tank over there so the good nutrients travel and helps the plants grow better.”

Sierra hopes the business can raise money for hurricane victims as well as the school.

It is unclear when the products would be made available.

Other school districts can learn more about starting a student business via realworldscholars.org .

Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2367, mdivittorio@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MikeJdiVittorio.

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