Aquatic Garden Teaches First Graders About Ecosystems

Published on Wednesday, August 23, 2023 in Strengthening Schools Grants

Alisha Blume, first-grade teacher at Edwardsburg Elementary, is teaching her students about ecosystems with a unique tool: an AquaSprouts Garden, purchased in part thanks to an MEC Strengthening Schools Grant, which is funded by partnership dollars through our power supplier Wolverine Power Cooperative.

alisha blume's classroom

The AquaSprouts Garden utilizes a concept known as aquaponics, or growing food in water where aquatic creatures (in this case, fish) are being raised. Waste from the fish is rich in nutrients that the plants feed on, eliminating the need for a traditional soil bed. Blume says the garden is a fun, hands-on way to teach her students about the relationship between various species and the environment.

Before purchasing the AquaSprouts Garden, Blume created a simple aquaponics ecosystem in a water jug. It didn’t last long, however, and she began looking for something more sustainable. After learning of the AquaSprouts system, she reached out to MEC for a Strengthening Schools Grant.

Blume says she’ll be able to use her new system for many years to come, and recommends similar hands-on tools for other classrooms. She says the students are more engaged when they can see what they’re studying in action. And it’s not just Blume— a 2015 study by the Canadian Center of Science and Education (“The Impact of Hands-On-Approach on Student Academic Performance in Basic Science and Mathematics”) found that students tested better on math and science concepts after participating in hands-on learning activities.

aquaponics system

The aquaponics garden isn’t just fun for the kids. Blume loves teaching in new ways and watching her students get excited for school.

“Watching the kids learning is amazing,” Blume says. “They’ve loved watching the fish and plants grow.”

Apply Now for Strengthening Schools Grants

Are you looking for funding for your next project or classroom initiative? Apply for a Strengthening Schools Grant by Oct. 16, 2023!


Any teacher, administrator, or school official in a public elementary, middle, or high school serving students in our electric service territory may apply for a grant of up to $2,500 to support classroom needs, technology, or academic projects/clubs/organizations.

Applications are evaluated and funding decisions are made by a committee of MEC customers without knowledge of the applying school, district, or educator. An application is not a guarantee of funding. Funds will be awarded in January 2024.

Grant Reviewers

Did you know that MEC electric customers decide which proposals get Strengthening Schools funds? We need volunteers for the upcoming award cycle.

Eligibility: Any MEC electric customer who can dedicate time to reviewing, discussing and awarding grants. This includes meeting in person for one full weekday in the fall and possibly one full weekday in January. 

The review committee does not know the school,  educator or district when determining recipients. 

If interested, please email