NEW PORT RICHEY — Freshmen Iain Lappe and Sebastian Castelfranco might not be aquaponics experts yet.
But they certainly had the basics down as they explained the prototype system that filled the back wall of their science classroom at Wendell Krinn Technical High.
"We feed the fish. They poop," Iain said, waving his arm toward a tank filled with tilapia.
"They poop ammonia," Sebastian chimed in. "It's very toxic to plants."
That's why the water streamed through pipes into a filtration tub that removed the solid waste and converted it into nitrates before continuing to the vegetable and herb garden on the other side of the model.
"It's sucked up into the plants," Sebastian continued. "They are getting the nitrates that are very vital nutrients for them to grow."
Those plants then clean the water, Iain concluded, as it's filtered back into the fish tank. Cycle complete.
In some schools, such a project might remain the purview of the environmental sciences courses. But at Krinn, they have much bigger plans.
"We definitely want to have a project that we, as a school ,can use as a focus to profile all the programs and capabilities that we have here," principal Chris Dunning said.
They want something that can stand alone for continued study and work by future students. If it can have value to the community, and be cutting edge, all the better.
Aquaponics fit the bill, suggested graduation-enhancement teacher David Martindale, who helped develop the project.
The world's population is rising, he noted, and food production isn't keeping up. Students who learn about vertical farming with aquaponics enter a growing field of study.
The school's several curriculum areas, from welders who will help build a full-scale model that will take up a cafeteria wall, to digital cinema students who will document the project, all can play a part in this initiative.
"There are so many ways to involve kids," Martindale said.
The one that's taking the longest to find a fit is the school cosmetology department.
But cosmetology student Zoey Poppelbaum, a sophomore, said she saw connections as soon as she joined the aquaponics club that is spearheading the first phases.
"Cosmetology is very chemistry-based," she explained. "Now that we're here, it makes more sense to me."
The knowledge comes in handy when looking at things like water quality. And Zoey's point, that putting book lessons to work in real life helps solidify the learning, is not lost on the teachers or students.
"I'm a hands-on guy," said junior Taylor Geer, who's in the school electronics track. "This lets you see progress, not just a pen on the pad."
The effort also will reach into the academic classrooms, Dunning said. Teachers will plan across the curriculum to incorporate pieces, such as related literature in English classes and critical calculations in math.
Biology teacher Brian Zetzsche has spent months working on the science angles. That includes researching and building the prototype that gurgles in the back of his classroom.
"It has four methods to see which works better," he said, including the drain and flood, and deep-water well approaches.
The "full blown teaching model" in a lab facing the cafeteria, with two attached classrooms, will focus on the vertical tower model for the plants, Zetzsche said. It will sit above a 16-foot aquarium filled with tilapia and catfish. (Think what culinary arts students can do with those.)
"We have a dream that the end product will be something we can bring to the table," Martindale said.
Even with a donated plan review and contributed fish, and district workers helping with renovation work, the project will cost about $56,000, Dunning said. The school won a $25,000 grant from the Pasco Education Foundation, and it is collecting other donations to keep costs low for the school district.
Dunning said he was hopeful families will see this type of project and gain interest in having their children attend Krinn Technical. The magnet school, which opened in the fall in the former Ridgewood High, enrolls about 550 students. It has seats for about 200 more students next school year.
Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @jeffsolochek.