← Middle School

January 24, 2018

School Aquarium


Students posing in front of aquarium

The fish tank crew!


About eight weeks ago, two of our middle school students had the idea to start a freshwater aquarium with live plants and peaceful community fish to place in the school. They were told that they should do some research, consider all of the possibilities as well as the limitations, and create a presentation to pitch the idea to our principal, Mrs. Bergman.

After weeks of research, the students were ready to present their idea to Mrs. Bergman. Their presentation happened to fall on a basketball game day. Already being required to wear a shirt and tie for the game, the two students ventured down to Mrs. Bergman’s office looking extremely professional. Their presentation blew Mrs. Bergman away, and they were given the green light to start moving on the project.

Over the next six weeks, the group of students grew from two to four. The group tirelessly worked inside and outside of school to make sure that everything that was needed to successfully create a planted freshwater fish tank was purchased and set up. The students had to consider tank size, substrate material, water chemistry and temperature, fertilization, and filtration. They committed themselves to finding peaceful fish that could thrive in similar water conditions, while also accounting for temperature, water parameters, and light output for the plants that they wanted to grow in the tank.

The group worked hard to learn about the nitrogen cycle and how beneficial bacteria converts poisonous ammonia from fish waste into still poisonous nitrite, and then from nitrite into less poisonous nitrate. Once they had the tank cycled and ready for fish, they learned how new additions to the fish tank can disrupt the nitrogen cycle and produce ammonia and nitrite spikes. Using water additives to temporarily neutralize harmful ammonia and nitrite, combined with frequent water changes, the students have been able to maintain good water quality as the tank continues to establish its beneficial bacteria colonies.

The journey has not been a simple one, however our students have persisted through all of the many expected and unexpected challenges. Some of those challenges have included stressed fish from long shipments due to weather delays, a broken heater, a parasite outbreak, and higher than anticipated levels of ammonia and nitrite in the tank.

In addition to the planted tank in the open space, the students have set up a smaller quarantine tank in the classroom. This quarantine tank will be a place for new arrivals to be watched to make sure that they are healthy before being added to the community tank up front. It will also serve as a hospital tank for any sick fish to receive treatment and as a grow out tank for any potential baby fish that are born in our community tank.

It’s amazing to think about how much these students have accomplished over the course of about eight weeks, however, their journey is not complete. Over the remainder of the year, the students will be tasked with maintaining the tank, fertilizing and pruning plants, reacting to any parasites or sickness in the fish, and adding additional plants and fish that are purchased for the tank. Their vision is to pass the tank down to a new group of students each year so that everyone at Renaissance can enjoy the tank for years to come.

If you haven’t been able to see the tank in person yet, we invite you to take a look next time you are in the school. If you happen to see any of our four aquatic specialists working on the tank while you are in the building, feel free to engage with them and ask them questions. The students would be more than happy to share their new knowledge.