Numerous elementary school students flock around a unique looking structure that can best be described as a fish hatchery in miniature, with many different bells and whistles to keep water clean and pollutant-free for the thread-like creatures living in the cylindrical container at its top.
These creatures are fish fry, of course, and to be a little more specific, they’re rainbow trout fry. That’s maybe something the average passerby wouldn’t be able to tell, but the kids already know and many are more than excited to sneak a peek at the creatures.
In a few months, students will be releasing these trout fry into nearby Lake Perris during a family picnic. The release of the fish will mark the culmination of the first part of a project, “Small Fry to Go,” that students of all ages are enthusiastic about and which ties into the school’s mission of incorporating the concept of STEM into their curriculum.
STEM stands for “Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics” and is a new component of Temecula Preparatory School’s mission to leave students well-rounded and prepared for the next stages of their lives, according to Dr. Scott Phillips.
Phillips, headmaster and chief executive officer for Temecula Prep, said the school is trying to challenge students to learn in a way where they don’t just think of things through the lens of science, mathematics, or language, but rather in a way where they can combine their knowledge of these things.
“There’s a new term that’s been thrown around and it’s called STEAM,” Phillips said. “And that’s a Rhode Island initiative and we’ve been talking about that because its science, technology, education, arts and math because they’re realizing you can’t divorce one from the other; arts and science go together.”
“I think STEAM would be the better word for us even though it’s a new initiative out of Rhode Island, because it fits our curriculum better because we’re such a humanities-based curriculum,” he said.
The school’s headmaster added that this particular project was picked because students could not only look at it from a scientific and analytical perspective, but they can also look at it through a humanities-based perspective by writing reports on what they’re observing.
Educators have been able to test “Small Fry to Go” under new conditions, as Temecula Preparatory School’s variation of the program is the first to be implemented west of the Mississippi. This is also one of the first times that students not in elementary school have been able to study the project through their much more extensive knowledge of science as well as relate that knowledge to the younger children, according to Phillips.
“And this is usually just an elementary program, but because we’re K-12 it’s been really interesting to see as well as very exciting because we have high school students who are really into science who really want to participate in this,” he said. “And they’re able to work alongside almost as classroom aids for the K-8 kids.”
Director of Development Denee Burns said she’s excited that Temecula Preparatory School is the first California school to host “Small Fry to Go” because it has been nationally recognized as a top science program by Congress and that she’s also excited for the possibilities of future renditions of the project.
After the fish are released to Lake Perris, the “Labitat” constructed for them will still be usable and Burns said school officials are looking to do a
number of additional projects with it, such as a study of how fish water yields better and larger crops and a study of the changes caterpillars undergo to become butterflies.
Next year Burns said she’d like to try “Small Fry to Go” in a way that it’s never been done before: by growing the fry of saltwater fish.
“There’s a marine life scientific institute on the West Coast that’s ready and willing to partner with us and that would be completely innovative and exciting,” said Burns.