| What Crystal Lake Middle School is teaching students with their Aquaculture Program |
Crystal Lake Middle School (CLMS), Lakeland, is land-locked in the middle of the peninsula, but that hasn’t stopped the school’s agricultural education program from exploring new areas, specifically aquaculture, by introducing saltwater fish into urban Polk County and immersing the students in a marine environment they may not otherwise experience.
Chris Canning, CLMS principal, spearheaded the project in a move to provide more hands-on education for the students, while allowing them to experience marine biology, a science he learned to appreciate growing up around the Gulf of Mexico in St. Petersburg. “I have always had a great deal of respect with the marine environment,” he says, “and the state of Florida in general. Marine science is a true passion of mine, it’s a lifestyle for me.”
Saltwater fish were just introduced in early 2010, but the roots of the project began several years ago, when the school was the beneficiary of several greenhouses formerly used by a Bartow alternative school. The school has since closed, but the greenhouses were moved to CLMS, where ground broke spring 2009 to convert them to aquaculture facilities. It was a perfect fit, as Greg West, CLMS agricultural education instructor, explains, “Our principal had a real interest in biology and the sciences, and our program had the land for them to rebuild those buildings that were taken down, and we already had a program we were trying to build up for the last few years.”
Nine hundred red fish were introduced to the program in February, chosen because they tend to tolerate cooler temperatures better than many other saltwater species native to the Florida coasts. Most have survived, largely due to the students’ responsibility and dedication to the fish. They have learned that fish require care and feeding long after school has ended, including weekends, and that dedication has taught them new concepts, and re-instilled previously-learned concepts, like algebra, showing them how to use formulas they never thought they’d use. Students learn to accurately measure the water level of each tank, adjusting salt levels accordingly, and these are jobs the students take seriously, because one mistake could threaten the lives of the fish. Canning has seen how these education techniques have taken the children to a new level of understanding through the program.
The program has been so successful during the past few years that CLMS has brought in a new instructor, Ashley Allen, to assist with the aquaculture program. Allen is an agricultural education graduate from the University of Florida (UF), but her specialty is livestock, specifically equine science, not aquaculture. That, however, hasn’t stopped her from jumping into the program, and already she is seeing similarities between the two disciplines. “A lot of things with aquaculture can relate to agriculture. Like horticulture, where you’re talking about citrus [trees], here you’re talking about aquatic plants. For me, it’s a matter of taking livestock and turning it into aquaculture.”
The program is in the construction phase of its next expansions, including three 1,400-gallon tanks to hold the red fish as they mature, as well as potentially larger species, and a 12,000-gallon tank that may ultimately hold coral reef. These ongoing expansions have caught the interest of UF, which initially aided CLMS in creating the program, and the state of Florida, which has been eyeing the school’s facilities for potential use in the Gulf oil spill.
“With the Gulf oil spill, it’s going to deplete a lot of species,” Canning predicts. “So [UF] has talked about moving some of their coral projects to our program if the oil spill hits the Florida Keys. They may be part of a project to keep them alive, and re-immersion into that environment once it’s safe.”
Although the school stands ready to assist UF in any preservation projects, Canning makes it clear that their expansion plans are for the benefit of the students. “It becomes real to them; it’s something they want to be a part of. In marine science,” he continues, “It’s a laboratory. I’m watching the fish, how they function, how they work. We are using hands-on education to increase higher-order thinking skills, like math, science, and the raising of fish.”
story by EVERETT BRAZIL, III