Surf’s up at Shell Bank

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A tree grows in Brooklyn — thanks to a middle school’s new aquarium.

I.S. 14 Shell Bank, located at 2424 Batchelder Street, just opened a new aquatic center allowing students to care for fish and use the aquatic animals’ refuse as a fertilizer system to grow plants.

The new center was created with special grant funding from the federal Department of Education.

“It was a highly competitive grant,” explained Janice Garoklanian, Shell Bank’s magnet grant coordinator. “We’re the only middle school in District 22 that was awarded this grant.”

When applying for the grant, Garoklanian and Shell Bank Principal Anne Tully proposed an aquatics focus because the school is located near the water.

“Us being in Sheepshead Bay, we went with the aquatic theme,” Garoklanian explained.

With the funding, the school was able to build an aquaponics lab, which is the cultivation of fish and plants in water.

“Our ocean science curriculum and aquaponics curriculum are pretty much state of the art. And as far as we know, we’re the only middle school in the city that has an aquaponics laboratory,” Garoklanian said.

Students are excited to participate in hands-on learning, especially at a time when schools place much emphasis on preparation for standardized tests.

“The most exciting part is watching the kids and seeing how interested they are in it,” Tully said.

By working in the lab, students are simultaneously strengthening their reading and math skills.

“It’s an interdisciplinary curriculum,” Tully said. “It introduces a lot of language arts and math and especially the areas the students have difficulty in.”

The extra instruction has paid off.

“We’ve seen an increase in our English Language Arts and math exam [scores],” Tully said.

The new aquatics curriculum, which is being offered to students in grades six, seven and eight, has created increased interest in Seth Low for students entering middle school. This year, Seth Low received three times as many applicants as the year prior.

Although public schools are currently facing severe budget cuts, Garoklanian and Tully believe Seth Low will be able to maintain its new aquatics program after federal funding runs out in three years.

“The materials themselves that we’re using, they are not materials that have to be replaced all the time. There’s minor costs like fish food,” Garoklanian said. “It’s set up so it can be sustained pretty much with relatively low cost to the school out of our regular school budget.”

“The point of the three years is that we have three years to build a curriculum and to really perfect what we’re doing and then to be able to sustain it beyond and hopefully indefinite­ly,” Tully said.

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