CCA provides a vision of the future for agriculture and education. In 2020, all aspects of life have drastically changed, especially for educators forced to navigate the virtual learning environment. While many are still adapting to the task, Commonwealth Charter Academy of Pennsylvania is flourishing thanks to their seasoned experience in the virtual classroom. CCA is a fully-remote public cyberschool serving youth grades K-12 across the state of Pennsylvania. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, enrollment has doubled, allowing CCA to educate over 18,000 students safely and remotely. CCA works to provide unique learning experiences for each student, successfully preparing them for school and wherever life may take them after. The OneGrow team had the opportunity to speak with Sam Johnson, the director of the CCA AgWorks Controlled Environment Agriculture facility in Harrisburg, PA. CCA takes a comparative approach to agriculture, specifically teaching and exposing students to both soil-less practices and traditional soil-based practices, using hydroponics and similar methods as ways to supplement the traditional approach to growing. Sam oversees the state-of-the-art hydroponic, aeroponic, and aquaponic systems with nearly 5,000 growing spots which produce a variety of herbs, tropical fruit trees, leafy greens, and aquaponic fish. The 6,100 square foot indoor growing space is used as a tool for students to learn about science, business, nutrition, technology, and more. AgWorks is the first of three builds that connect students to career readiness opportunities at the school. CCA will be launching TechWorks in Pittsburgh and MedWorks in the Philadelphia area shortly, to boost interest in technological and medical careers. With Pennsylvania in dire need of workers in tech, healthcare, and agriculture, the experiences students gain from the AgWorks, TechWorks, and MedWorks programs are invaluable after graduation.
When asked what makes CCA unique, Sam didn’t hesitate to reply, “Our job as educators is to prepare them [students] for life. So we spend a lot of time making sure they have a solid educational foundation, but we always add that extra piece: ‘What do you want to do when you graduate?’” Allowing youth to discover their passions is exactly what the three “CCAWorks” programs do best. Students in all grades can spearhead projects to automate hydroponic farms with robotic harvesters, program grow sensors in aquaponic systems, or code new applications to connect grows to existing hardware. These students are also tasked with questions such as, “how can we produce more food for society, but in a sustainable way? What’s the best tool, the most cost-effective tool that reduces your carbon footprint, reduces your energy costs, reduces your need for water?” By supplementing conventional school curriculum with positive future-oriented thinking, CCA can successfully position the next generation as possible leaders in impending food shortages, tech breakthroughs, or medical crises. This pandemic has already disrupted conventional education structures forever. With Commonwealth Charter Academy leading the way in practical 21st century learning, other schools have a model on how to engage students in a completely different way.
To learn more about Commonwealth Charter Academy, check out their website at K-12 Pennsylvania Public Cyber Charter School | CCA (ccaeducate.me) To gain a better perspective of the AgWorks facility in Harrisburg, PA check out AgWorks at CCA (ccaeducate.me) If you would like to learn more about the work we are doing, the status of our mission, or would like to utilize OneGrow's resources for your school, please visit our homepage at www.OneGrow.org or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow us on social media with the links below:
James Winstel is OneGrow's Director of Product Management and Outreach, and Co-Founder. He studies at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.