A Good Catch
Bridgeport's Aquacutlture School is reeling them in
Just over the Fairfield line in Black Rock is an educational gem. The Bridgeport Regional Aquaculture Science and Technology Center lies adjacent to Captain’s Cove Marina, and although the huge grey building is hard to miss, not everyone realizes what’s inside. A state-of-the-art navigation simulator, a fish hatchery, a mass spectrometer, and even a floating classroom onboard The Catherine Moore are just a few of the exciting offerings at this marine-centered learning facility.
Opened in 1993, this co-operative “accessory program” is available to high school students from Fairfield, Bridgeport, Milford, Monroe, Shelton, Stratford, and Trumbull school districts. It is almost entirely state funded, and while participating schools pay tuition for any students attending, there is no cost to families. “We built our foundation on high level science,” explains Director Lea Catherman. “As a former science teacher, I am consistently impressed by the level of rigor and engagement in the classes offered here,” she continues. The program, at its roots, is an “ag school” but over the years has become anything but vocational in nature. Each day, students spend half the day at their regular high schools fulfilling language arts, social studies, and math requirements, then the other half at the Aquaculture School (transportation is provided). Here they take intensive science coursework like honors biology and chemistry, conceptual physics in the marine environment, and oceanography. electives include aquaculture engineering, coastal navigation, and even Mandarin Chinese. “I love science and I want to be a scientist, so when I heard of Aqua I thought it was perfect for me,” says Fairfield Ludlowe sophomore, Sydney Hernandez. “It is an experience that I can’t get at my home school.”
One of the most exciting and high-profile electives is Marine Construction, where students learn the mechanics of boat building. Local businesses sponsor the students by donating $300 to purchase the materials required for construction, and by the end of the year, each participant builds an eight-foot long “Cocktail Class” motor vessel. In June, the students participate in the school-wide “Aqua Cup” race, which is held on Father’s Day. In the weeks leading up to the event, you might be lucky enough to catch the students practicing in the harbor under the direction of Captain Ken Tober and instructor Bob Larnerd. “The students start with a plan, construct the boat from scratch, and then they get to compete and see how it performs,” says Captain Tober. “They really get a tremendous sense of completion.”
Selected seniors also have the opportunity to participate in the Bridgeport Aquaculture College Alliance (BACA), which awards up to seven University of Connecticut college credits and four Advanced Placement credits. Fairfield Ludlowe senior Carole Fulton is one such student. “BACA was absolutely the best experience at Aqua,” she says. She loved working independently on a year-long project, then having the opportunity to present it at regional competitions and science fairs. This fall she began her freshman year at Indiana University where she will pursue Public Health Biology, inspired by her three years studying science at the Aquaculture School.
During the 2013-2014 academic year, nearly 500 students in grades 9 to 12 participated in the program, including 72 students from Fairfield. Recruitment begins in October of each year, when representatives visit each feeder middle school in the seven districts. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis, however last year the program was at capacity by February, so interested students should apply early. The best applicants are “motivated students who are excited about science and technology” says Director Catherman. Coupled with the “uniquely qualified staff with experience in industry and a passion for their subject matter and an emphasis on application of science and technology concepts,” the School of Aquaculture is a great catch.