(photo courtesy of Phillip Dickler)
As part of its effort to teach environmental responsibility to its students, John Bowne High School in Flushing has recently added some new fish into the classes of its agricultural program.
The course, part of the school’s aquaponics studies, is called “Trout in the Classrooms.”
Students who have chosen to specialize in animal sciences within the school’s agricultural program will raise the fish from eggs to maturity and then release them into local creeks and streams.
One of the aims of the school’s agricultural program is to instill a sense of environmental stewardship into the students, said Phillip Dickler, the science teacher who is teaching “Trout in the Classrooms.”
That means he hopes the students develop a “willingness and ability to contribute to the maintenance of the environment.”
“Trout in the Classrooms” is a program sponsored by Trout Unlimited, a national conservation organization that advocates for cleaner waterways.
Bowne science teacher Brian Nazinitsky, an avid catch-and-release fly fisherman and a member of Trout Unlimited, introduced the program to Dickler and Steve Perry, assistant principal of the Agriculture Program.
Trout Unlimited gave funding for a chiller to control the water temperature of the hatchery tank, provided the school with a curriculum and arranged for the program to receive 200 brown trout and 200 brook trout eggs.
During the course of the school year, students will monitor the life cycle of the fish, as well as the water quality of their 50-gallon refrigerated rearing tank. Then this spring, the brook trout will be released in Alley Creek in Douglaston and the brown trout will be released in an unspecified location.
Students in the agriculture program take a double period agriculture course each day as part of their regular academic course load at Bowne. At the end of their sophomore year, they choose to specialize in either plant or animal science. All the senior animal science majors, about 100 in total, will pass through Dickler’s class.
The specialty course work that the agriculture students take on gives them a unique “learning by doing” experience, Dickler said, that aids them in their other academic work.
As the students are studying animal husbandry they’re also learning biology, and as they’re studying aquaponics they’re also learning how to balance the water’s chemistry, he said.
The agriculture program is so successful that come college recruitment time, the graduating students are sought by colleges that offer agriculture degrees.
Perry said SUNY Cobleskill, a school that has been instrumental in helping Bowne set up the aquaponics program, sends a bus to pick up Bowne’s agriculture seniors, hoping to entice them to study at the college.
The aquaponics class has been in the works as part of Bowne’s agriculture program for the last four or five years, said Perry. They’ve just been working the kinks out of the system.
In that time, the students in the aquaponics class have been raising tilapia, a tropical African fish.
Recently, Cobleskill gave the program an $800 grant to help the students regulate water temperature and filtration problems.
Tilapia, Perry said, is a commonly eaten fish that many people have probably had in a restaurant without knowing it.
And proving that the rewards of being a good student are not just limited to A’s on a report card, after the tilapia are raised they will be eaten.
Perry said he has a wonderful “lemon tilapia parmesan” recipe he is waiting to try.
But the benefits of the agriculture program go beyond the usual course work in other ways, too, Dickler said. Part of the advantage for the students, besides learning, is the fellowship and bond that they form with the other students and teachers over the course of the four-year program.
The science teacher said that he rarely sees the other students that he teaches outside the program once they leave his classroom at the end of the year. But with the agriculture students, he gets to watch them grow up over the four years.
The agriculture program at Bowne has been in existence since the school was opened in 1964. Hidden behind the building on Main Street, the Flushing school’s campus includes a four-acre land laboratory with 150 chickens.
Students from all five boroughs are represented at Bowne. Those who join the agriculture program must dedicate two summers of work-study. The first summer is spent working on the school’s farm and the second is spent working 300 hours in an agriculture-related job, for which they get paid and receive credit.