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Student Growth in Wagner
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Carrie Tucek adjusts the water flow to the plant table.
SDPB 2017

Just as producers across the state are preparing to head into their fields and gardens, so to is the crew at South Dakota Public Broadcasting as we begin work on Season Two of Savor Dakota.

Students at Wagner Community School are able to work year around cultivating plants thanks to an aquaponics systems and in their geodesic dome greenhouse that is part of their classroom.  Carrie Tucek, the high school science teacher and pre-k through 12 Outdoor Science Coordinator, works to inspire students and grow their curiosity about growing plants.   The project started when she had middle school students build an aquaponics table that is housed in the preschool lunch room.  The system harvests nutrients from a fish tank and pumps them through the roots of plants which live on a table illuminated by grow lights.  Water cleaned by the plants is returned again to the fish where the cycle begins again.

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Harvesting their own vegetables from the table was such a positive experience that the students looked to expand the project.  A larger aquaponics table is now housed in Tucek’s classroom and contains a large 8-foot grow bed.  The same students involved with building the first table then put plans into place to build a geodesic dome that further expanding their indoor gardening opportunities.  A 3,100 gallon aquaponics tank is housed in the structure and provides nutrients to multiple plant tables.

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Every component of the system is crucial for the success of the next.  Tilapia are the breed of fish used in the tanks.  As they outgrow in the smaller tanks, they advance to the next larger system.  Once the fish are large enough to spawn, they are harvested in fish fry.  Tucek said, “Our middle school principal, Steve Petry, has a fish batter that's amazing. We fry the fish with the kids. We make different dishes and have raw vegetables from our garden. It's very fun. Our school board members had a bunch of fish that the kids caught and helped deep-fat fry at our school board meeting, so they could see the fruits of our labor.”

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Work in the school gardens and in the greenhouse is an integral part of Wagner’s summer learning program.  Tucek explained, “We are seeing that test scores, when they take tests in the fall and the spring have been increasing. Because it's not just about math and science, that they need in the summer to catch up, to help close our achievement gap. It is fun enrichment activities, where the kids feel positive about themselves and they learn life-long skills. We also go on field trips. The kids garden, they cook and they also their reading and math and they're excited to come back to school in the fall.”

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Producing food is an excellent example of how many skills need to combine to create a favorable outcome.  Students learn to consider the weather, availability of light, soil composition and how to tend to plants in order to nurture a bountiful harvest.  Collecting ears of corn, heads of lettuce or plucking tomatoes from the vine are all tangible evidence of success.  

That feeling of ownership is something that Wagner Community School is working to foster and expand.  Tucek invites other schools to visit the facility to see how a similar program might be created in their own community, “We want to share this with others schools because we think this is what's best for kids. Learning about life-long skills, eating healthy and having fun learning. I can't believe how energized these kids get by working with our outdoor science program and how excited they are to watch their vegetables grow. We have some kids that need to have the confidence that they can be successful and any kid can learn how to garden and learn how to pick their own vegetables and feel so good about themselves and that leads right into the classroom.”

Feeding the body and mind requires the work of many.  The benefits radiate out from the school into the surrounding community.  Tucek said, “We've had many community members help us do the work here and make something that the community can own. I guess I say that because the community would like them to grown pumpkins for the community to buy so the money can go back into the program. That was a request by our chambers so we've already got a lot of land that we're working on that now.”

To follow the work being done by students in the geodome or with the aquaponics systems, information is shared on the school website.  Just click on this link.


Food brings people together and inspires life lessons.  Savor Dakota will return to Wagner school to see the bounty of this growing season used in the school lunch room. 

Follow our blog for photos from our visits around the state.  Season Two will include a stop at Keya Café in Eagle Butte, a visit with the folks with Honey Lodge in Herrick, Sanaa’s in Sioux Falls and a variety of other producers and chefs. 

If you come across any tasty treats in our state or would like to share photographs of local producers and chefs in our state, we invite you to use the social media tag #SavorDakota.  Be sure to follow the tag on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Season Two will air in January of 2018.