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Freeze gives Corbett Prep students hard lessons in business of raising fish

CARROLLWOOD — Students got a dose of business-plan reality when the rains and freezes of early January hit the Aquaponics Club at Corbett Preparatory School.

The foul weather delayed their schedule for launching a new system of raising fish and produce within a sustainable system.

The water temperature dropped so much that the fish they were expecting wouldn't survive. The water they added wasn't filtered enough. Rains drowned the floating plant seeds. And tree leaves blew into the water.

But club sponsor, science teacher Maria Cardona, said the challenges provided the nine-member club with some lessons in problem-solving.

"We are figuring it out as we go along," said Cardona, a former engineer who changed to teaching eight years ago after getting her master's degree in Science Education.

The system of tanks and filters is an experiential, educational tool to learn concepts in the STEAM fields — science, technology, engineering, art of design and mathematics. It was donated to the school by Andy Lutton, who has family there and once owned it.

The program is now part of weekly club activities but will become an elective class next year after the school at 12015 Orange Grove Drive revamps its science curriculum. Corbett Prep at IDS has about 500 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

A $2,000 grant from Wal-Mart pays for supplies, including fish, water-quality testing kits, seeds, plants and planting compounds. Geordie Chastain and Michael Astell, who attended the school, created concrete flooring and installed the equipment as part of their Eagle Scout projects. Parent Joe Aulicino set up the electrical outlets.

"We have to take care of testing the water, planting the plants and keeping the area clean," said club member Julia Cox, 12, a sixth-grader.

Teacher Cardona said she became interested in aquaponics when she took an elective class in her master's program and saw work being done at Sarasota's Mote Marine Institute.

"What I saw helped me understand the importance of global sustainability," she said. "With a method like this, you could solve real problems. You can do this in a pond; you can do it anywhere."

She added, "Our goal with the system is to make it 100 percent self-sustaining, adding a solar panel and rain barrel."

During recent Friday club time, the students drained the overflowing water, scrubbed the walls of the tanks, removed leaves and prepared new floating seed pods.

For Marabelle Coggins, a 12-year-old seventh-grader, the aquaponics project is an extension of her fifth-grade science project on hydroponics.

Ayedean Sharabyani, 12, a sixth-grader, said he has experimented in aquaponics with his father.

"This way I could learn more, and I could help the group with my previous experience," Ayedean said.

Other clubs at the school will assist with the project, designing a protective cage to keep out stray balls from sports teams and plant-munching peacocks that roam the property, and developing a solar power project for the aquaponics system.

Contact Lenora Lake at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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