Cleveland Elementary finalist for national prize

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 14, 2016

By Rebecca Rider

CLEVELAND — When it comes to grants and contests, Cleveland Elementary is competing on a national stage. The small school is currently one of 10 finalists vying for a “Green Your School” prize offered by Tom’s of Maine.

And Rowan County residents can help the school win.

Lynn Bradley, technology facilitator at Cleveland Elementary, hopes to build weather and hydroponics stations on Cleveland’s grounds with her entry “How does your garden grow? Hydoponics is the practice of growing plants in water using a nutrient solution instead of in soil – she hopes to have her students test the effects of weather on the plants. But the competition is fierce.

“We’re up against places in Michigan and Florida, and we’re little tiny Cleveland,” she said, “I don’t know how we’ll fare.”

According to Tom’s of Maine’s website, judges chose the 10 most innovative projects from a slew of national submissions. Bradley’s hydroponics lab made the cut. Now, the 10 projects are put to a public vote, which runs from July to October.

The first place winner will be awarded $25,000. According to the website, each project will receive at least $2,000, and projects are automatically half-funded by Tom’s of Maine.

The Cleveland lab has a price-tag of $1,922.91, and calls for items like hydroponics towers, grow lights, water pumps and weather probes.

“If we give our students the knowledge that they need to care for our environment, they not only can care for themselves in a sustainable way, they can also provide food for others,” Bradley wrote in her entry. “This also leads to environmental stewardship, which will help our students create a smaller carbon footprint. These practices make for a brighter future for many generations to come.”

However, the hydroponics and weather stations aren’t the only thing Bradley has up her sleeve. For the past year she’s been working on setting up a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) lab in the school. Earlier this year, the school was awarded a Lowe’s grant that will enable Bradley to set up an aquaponics lab indoors.

In aquaponics, plants are grown over tanks containing fish. The plants provide oxygen and food for the fish, and the fish fertilize the plants.

“So it would be like a complete ecosystem,” she said.

While she’d start with pet store fish, she hopes to gradually switch over to North Carolina fish such as bass and trout.

But the hydroponics project belongs to her students. Bradley led a robotics group to competition during the 2015-2016 school year, and said her team was required to come up with some sort of project – and they dreamed the lab in miniature.

You can vote for, and donate to, Cleveland’s project at

“I really hope that we win,” Bradley said.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.