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Mercer university's partnership furthers greenhouse education

Mercer University College of Education’s AgSTEM partnership with a group of schools in Gwinnett County recently added another collaborator in Grace Hope Church that will further serve the goal of making strides in education and have a profound difference in the lives of nearby community members.

The church is turning over management of its greenhouse, accompanying aquaponics system and education building — all valued at more than $120,000 — to Gwinnett County Public Schools’ (GCPS) Archer Cluster to support education and a farmer’s market that will assist local food banks and families in need. The Archer Cluster is a group of five schools feeding into and including Archer High School.

In addition, master gardeners from the University of Georgia’s Master Gardener Extension Volunteer Program will assist with managing the day-to-day operations of this site.

Individuals involved in the project from Mercer include Dr. Justin Ballenger, assistant professor of education and director of the STEM Education and Innovation (SEI) Lab, and Dr. Elaine Thurmond, assistant professor of clinical practice and assistant director of the SEI Lab.

Grace new hope church
Another important partner in this project is Grace new hope church, located in Lawrenceville. The church’s recent contribution of the greenhouse and aquaponics facility to the Archer Cluster has allowed the vision of hands-on STEM education to come to fruition.

“As a church, we feel like being part of serving the local needs of our community is central to what we seek to be,” said Grace New Hope Pastor Randy Rainwater. “From providing food to training young leaders, this seems like a win across the board.” In order to reinvigorate and prepare for student use of the aquaponics system, a cleanup workday event was held Feb. 27 that was attended by many residents, including employees in the Archer Cluster. Tasks included cleaning planting pods and shoveling mulch.

“I work with a lot of clusters, and I was impressed with the number of educators that came out there,” Fowler said. “I think we got a lot done, and everyone worked hard, so it was very positive energy and fun.” Representatives from the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office were also in attendance to provide gardening tools, community awareness of the event and hands-on support.

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