RUSKIN — It’s like “Finding Dory” comes to the classroom.
Through a $64,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm to Schools program, the University of Florida and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) will help some Florida K-12 educators who teach science, technology, engineering, math and agriculture start or strengthen aquaculture education programs.
To apply for the program, follow the steps: https://www.fdacs.gov/Education/Aquaculture-Educator-Resources. The deadline for applications is March 12.
Educators will participate in a three-day intensive training and skills-building workshop from July 21-23. Teachers who already have aquaculture programs will also give talks, said Eric Cassiano, an assistant extension scientist at the UF/IFAS Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory in Ruskin.
“This program is important to teachers and students because it provides the information and training required to teach aquaculture and aquaponics concepts to students as well as to maintain an aquaponics system,” Cassiano said. “Often, students will want to learn about aquaculture, but the educator is not trained to do so, nor do they have the necessary equipment. This project provides both.”
UF/IFAS and FDACS scientists will train the teachers about fish grown in Florida. Most schools with aquariums grow tilapia, cichlids and koi, Cassiano said. They’ll also learn about regulatory issues.
In addition to the summer training program, FDACS will award aquaculture systems and supplies to 20 schools, selected through a competitive application and review process.
The curriculum comes in two parts. One is the lecture session. Most teachers will be able to attend virtually. This provides educators with basic information about aquaculture and existing programs associated with aquaculture.
The second part comes when a teacher receives what’s called a “recirculating aquaculture system (RAS),” an aquaponics table and water quality test kit.
Participants will also learn how aquaculture — and an RAS specifically — can be integrated into existing land garden programs and Farm to School activities. For example, schools with existing gardens can expand by creating an uncoupled aquaponics system while used water and fish waste can be utilized to supplement fertilizer.
“An RAS system is important because it recycles the water and converts fish waste into nitrate, which becomes fertilizer for plants within the aquaponics system,” Cassiano said. “These ecological concepts can be viewed first-hand by the students as they monitor the water quality parameters and see the growth in both fish and plants within the system.”