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Rural Alaska School Uses Former Contraband to Benefit Community

Equipment once used to grow marijuana in a rural Alaskan community has been transformed into a science project that grows fresh vegetables for the community's inhabitants.

Whittier Community School, a small, 35-student prekindergarten through 12th-grade school in Whittier, Alaska, has been using a hydroponic system—plants are grown in water without soil—police found in a marijuana bust a few years ago.

Students have used it to grow lettuce, bok choy and Swiss chard. That's significant in this small community, which gets an average of 40 feet of snow each year and experiences four months without direct sunlight each year. The courts granted the school system's request to use the system.

The school's innovative efforts have been highlighted recently by an Alaska TV station, KTVA, as well as by the Rural School and Community Trust.

The community buys students' produce at a local farmer's market. Students had an idea for a more effective hydroponic system, so they built one and are testing it to see whether it works better.

The Rural Trust described other ways the school sets itself apart, such as by developing Individual Learning Plans for every student. As part of those plans, students brainstorm topics that interest them and present final projects to the community.

The school also has 10 content focus areas, five of which are strictly academic and five of which were developed by the community when it was asked, "What do you want your kids to be able to do?" Those five areas are: community and culture, technology, physical education and health, personal social service/leadership, and career development.

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