Seed to Harvest teacher Profile: Rochelle Tkach, James Morden, DSBN

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Nutritower teacher Profile Rochelle Tkach, James Morden, DSBN
NT: Why did you want to become a teacher? 😊

Teaching always felt like such a natural fit for me. I had a desire to work with children and found it was so rewarding to see their growth and accomplishments. Children’s excitement and natural curiosity keeps me going! I realized that as a teacher, I can pass down values and help shape the future generation of responsible citizens.

 NT: How do you keep your students interested and motivated? How do you create a classroom environment that inspires creativity and purpose?

My students inspire many of the ideas and projects in the classroom. They have so much interest in global problems and want to be engaged in social justice action. I believe the classroom should resemble the society they will someday be working in. Many of our inquiries this year have been connected to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. These goals are clear for students to see and understand as global problems and solutions. Through the lens of the UN SDGs, we have been able to carry out many hands-on learning initiatives in the classroom. We have looked at how the Nutritower hydroponics system connects to the SDGs: Sustainable Cities and Communities, Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Change, Good Health and Well-Being, Reducing Inequalities, and Zero Hunger. My students have asked questions, researched, and planned a course of action for our hydroponics system.  Together, we looked a lot at how hydroponics are being used at a global scale and how we can then bring this knowledge back to our local Niagara Falls community. It is so meaningful for students to see their learning in action and reflect on the challenges, maintenance, and successes of the Nutritower system.

NT: Which values do you think are important to transmit to students, especially in the 21stCentury?


21st Century learning is such a broad concept so I try to focus and narrow in on 21st Century Literacies. In particular, environmental literacy, global literacy, and digital literacy. As an educator, I am trying to instill the values that encourage social justice action and empathy for others. We have focused a lot this year on environmental issues at a global scale and spent time watching and reading about COP26 while it was going on in 2021. We have then looked at how these global environmental issues affect our local Niagara Falls community and try to determine what technological advancements can support a more sustainable way of living. We have reflected and learned quite a bit about responsible consumption and production of vegetables and fruits through the Nutritower system.

NT: I noticed you tag EcoSchools Canada in your posts, what does being an EcoSchool mean to you and your students? What are some of the goals/projects you envision for your classroom? Short-term, long-term. 
For my students and I, EcoSchools is a way of life. We are working towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) and have conducted research projects on them. We are really looking at the global problems in the world such as climate change and social inequalities. As an EcoSchool, we hope to address these issues from a local community perspective. Last year, my students and I applied for the Whole Kids Foundation garden grant, and we got it! In addition to the garden grant, we have also had a lot of support from our school board (District School Board of Niagara). They provided us with a Nutritower system, and we have spent a lot of time this year researching, maintaining, and enjoying our vegetables! Our Nutritower harvests have been so much fun! My students harvested the vegetables, washed them, chopped them, and organized a salad bar. Everyone enjoyed a very healthy and yummy meal that day! Some of our other ECO School projects include a composting program and outdoor edible garden.















We also currently have a compost system at James Morden Public School! Our compost program has been supported by the DSBN and the Niagara Region. We have been so grateful for their support and virtual learning programs! My grade 6/7s have run the compost program this year. Each class has a mini compost bin and my students then collect the compost. Some of the compost goes into our backyard composters and will be used in our vegetable garden this spring. Some of our compost goes out to the curb side for the Niagara Region to collect. We also plan to use an electric food cycler to see our compost from the Nutritower break down quicker. We then plan to use the soil from the food cycler to germinate more seeds for our Nutritower. It becomes a very cyclical system of Responsible Consumption and Production.














NT: Which native plants are you growing? What are their significance? Does that have any ties to indigenous POV in the classroom or curriculum or both?

Currently in our Nutritower, we are growing cucumbers, basil, lettuce, kale, and swiss chard. They are seeds from West Coast Seeds, which is a Canadian company. With regards to our outdoor edible garden, we have been working in partnership with Heartland Forest in Niagara Falls. Our community partner there, Louis Harris, has been working with us and generously donated White Flint Corn to our school. He is Haudonosaune and has been working with my grade 6/7 class by teaching them the legends and scientific meaning behind Indigenous gardening. His mother also works at our school, Tammy Harris, and she is further leading the educational component behind Indigenous gardening at James Morden Public School.

NT: How has your classroom/teaching style changed through the pandemic? Any subjects/values that you now teach because they were highlighted by the pandemic?

While looking at the UN SDGs, my students and I identified Zero Hunger, Good Health and Well-Being, and Reduced Inequalities as goals we need to address. Our plan is to work more in the future with GROW: Community Food Literacy Center in Niagara Falls, which organizes a low cost food market, to see how our Nutritower hydroponics and outdoor edible garden can help support the community. We hope to reduce some food insecurity felt within our community.

NT: How are your students handling everything?

My students are leaders. There is so much drive and passion towards their learning when it is meaningful, and they can see the difference they are making. It is one thing to study hydroponics and find out how it can help reduce inequalities around the world due to climate change and agricultural issues. It is another thing to experience the efficiency and sustainability of real life hydroponics in person. It will be a great comparison for my students to experience vertical farming compared to traditional farming when we build our outdoor garden. I have also noticed my students approaching problems differently. They jump to action more if we have a mistake or issue and are more eager to solve it. The Nutritower system has become such a focal point in our classroom to foster community and perseverance.

NT: What are your hopes for the future regarding your students, how we educate, and yourself as a person in the teaching profession?

I strongly believe education should reflect the real world. We need to practice and facilitate programs and curriculum that drive interdisciplinary learning, engineering, and a design thinking mindset. I can only hope that my students start to see less barriers between disciplines like science, math, language, the arts, etc. The world is not set-up in isolated disciplines. The Nutritower hydroponics system has provided a context for learning where my students can use skills and make connections between multiple disciplines. I can only hope that this prepares them for the real world as future change-makers.

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