Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden has partnered with Miami-Dade County Public Schools to transform the way in which seventh-grade students are taught science. Together, with the help of students from the University of Miami School of Architecture Design Build Program, a decommissioned school bus has been transformed into a state-of-the-art mobile tissue culture lab.
The mobile lab, called STEMLab, travels to Miami-Dade County middle schools that do not have access to science labs. STEMLab allows students to do the science, technology, engineering and math of rescuing rare species.
On Tuesday, Wells Fargo and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation awarded STEMLab a $100,000. That money will facilitate STEMLab’s mission of providing students with the opportunity of hands-on learning while they participate in the Million Orchid Project.
The project aims to grow and reintroduce one million native and endangered orchids back into South Florida’s urban spaces. These flowers once painted the city. Due to development, trees were cut down, taking orchids along with them.
“[Orchids] are almost completely wiped out. And we actually have the technology to bring them back,” Fairchild Director Dr. Carl Lewis said. “It’s a high-tech process and we need a lot of help from the community.”
During its first year of operation, the STEMLab will visit 30 middle schools. STEMLab will visit each school twice during the school year because the orchids must be transplanted every once in a while.
Before students are able to work inside the laboratory, they are taught by Fairchild volunteers and staff how to properly propagate the orchids. Once they learn this, the students then board the mobile botany lab and plant and transplant orchid seeds in sterile conditions. The students cultivate orchid seedlings in mini botany labs in their classrooms and collect and analyze the data so that they can finalize the process in time for STEMLab’s second visit. As the orchids grow, student scientists will plant them in trees at their schools.
STEMLab student participants, including 12-year-old Enderlyn Gonzalez, are excited to be able to contribute to the environment while gaining valuable scientific experience.
“I think that this is really cool because it shows kids how important the environment is, especially here in Florida. It’s important that we take care of [the environment] because people don’t always understand how important plants are to the world,” she says.
Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvahlo attended the donation presentation. After thanking Wells Fargo, he thanked Fairchild for its vision, leadership and partnership.
“This is about building equity and access. [STEMLab] is about empowering both students and teachers alike,” Carvahlo said.
Wells Fargo Regional President Joe Atkinson agreed, saying this innovation is possible with the help of the community and supporters.
“Our commitment will be to continue to help projects such as Fairchild’s with our biggest resource, which is funding,” Atkinson said.
While conservation of the environment is important, so is the message sent to the children.
“We want to be able to provide kids with authentic science research experience that have real world implications,” said Amy Padolf, Fairchild’s education director. “They can learn a concept in the classroom, but this was they can put it to practice.”
STEMLab will reach out next year to schools that weren’t able to participate now. Fairchild hopes to extend the program to other grade levels. For now, it will continue to transform the community through education and rebuild a city where beds of orchids once flourished.