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Jonesport teacher shows students how to grow without soil

Students are learning how to grow vegetables like lettuce and potatoes in the classroom without soil.

JONESPORT, Maine — It's no secret women are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics professions across the country and right here in Maine. However, many women in our state breaking barriers and getting their hands dirty in STEM fields.

Robin LaRochelle teaches aquaponics and aquaculture at Jonesport-Beals High School. She's believed to be the only teacher in all of Maine solely dedicated to showing students how to grow crops without soil. LaRochelle's inspiration to teach these courses comes from her own high school experience.

"My high school teacher was really a big reason that I wanted to get into this," LaRochelle said. 

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LaRochelle's dream job has always been to teach students about aquaponics and aquaculture. She said it's all because of positive experiences during her own school years, and she wants to give that experience back to others. 

"I like to think the classes are a way for students to grow their own food," she said. "I try to tell them all the jobs that are out there for [students] to possibly get, what kind of schools they might have to go to, and careers they can go into right out of school." 

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Her students are learning how to grow vegetables like lettuce in the classroom without using soil. Students are also growing potatoes in a greenhouse, using a healthy serving of nutrient-rich water from two tanks full of tilapia. LaRochelle is helping to inspire young girls in her classes that they, too, can pursue a career in science.

"It's a really helpful class, and I think a lot more people should be taking it," Abigail Lunn, who is in LaRochelle's aquaponics course, said. "I don't think it's something that's gender-based. I think anybody can do it."

Lunn isn't alone. Junior Jalyn Stevens is planning to take the aquaponics class next year.

"It's just a really great opportunity to learn how to make my own food," Stevens explained. 

Stevens and Lunn said they were inspired to pursue aquaponics because of LaRochelle. 

"I love talking about just aquaponics and aquaculture with her," Stevens said.

"Know that you can be a girl or a woman and definitely get in these fields. There's a lot of really amazing women out there in the sciences," LaRochelle said.

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