Ledyard High School has 1,500 to 2,000 tilapias swimming in large blue tanks. There are koi, too. There are channel catfish and a small number of hybrid striped bass. Other species swim in the glass aquariums that surround teacher Matt Smith’s aquaculture classroom.
To this collection, Smith hopes to add a tank of lobsters for the students to sell at the school. This would give students on opportunity to gain experience and to earn money for the Agri-Science department. Grossman’s Fish Market donated the equipment, and the students are in the process of setting it up.
“Over the course of the last couple of years, we have got a considerable amount of donations from … Grossman’s. We were able to raise a large amount of fish, and we wanted to do something new,” Smith said. At that point, the fish market donated a system for keeping live lobsters. “We wanted something new, and lo and behold, this fell into our laps,” Smith said.
The school has worked with Grossman’s Fish Market before. Grossman’s has given the school equipment, and also allows students to visit on field trips. In return, Ledyard students helped last year with the fish market’s Operation Lobster Dinner. The FFA officers and other volunteers helped serve free lobster dinners to veterans of any war.
At this point, the lobster tanks are not yet working. The students haven’t been able to keep the water chilled to the right temperature. But when the system is ready, Grossman’s will sell the lobsters to the school at cost.
The sales will provide a fundraiser for the Agri-Science department. “Most of the (fundraisers) go to the FFA… but that particular fundraiser is going back into this program to repair the water garden,” Smith said.
Water garden repairs
The water garden is a pond students built 7 years ago. It was located right outside the aquaculture lab, and Smith said it was beautiful. However, the pond began to leak and the garden had to be torn up for repairs. The money would go toward restoring it.
Smith hopes that after the school is selling lobsters, trout might offer the next challenge.
But in the meantime, the program still offers opportunity for hands-on experience. Students help maintain fish tanks. Those studying Coastal Ecology recreate ecosystems in their tanks. Kids work on an outdoor ponds. Some build systems to raise fish in. They also learn to identify fish and other useful species, and go on field trips to learn about the products that commercial fishing provides.
“They learn to raise a fish from egg to filet, pretty much,” Smith said. The students learn about every aspect of raising and caring for fish. Another important experience is in building and maintaining tanks and equipment. “It’s not only about the fish, but where the fish are living.”
The program also gives students room to make choices. “The students run the show,” Smith said. Although he teaches and guides them, he said, “Every aspect of this program is run by upper-classman juniors and seniors.”
Netting big dividends
Their work brings the students real returns. “We harvested almost 50 pounds of filets last year,” Smith said. This was enough to let the kids share the products of their efforts. Every the end of each year, the seniors organize a fish fry for all the seniors in Agri-Science. They choose the recipes and prepare the fish themselves. Last year, the students could even provide a special lunch for the faculty.
Students can also compete in the FFA’s Career Development Events. In the Aquaculture CDE on Saturday’s State FFA Convention, Ledyard students placed first and second.