A Fish Story

Connie Rice: A Fish Story
She’s enthusiastic, educated and energetic. She’s also in the right place. In spite of being a vegetarian she’s teaching kids how to raise fish for harvest and loving it. Connie Rice, Community Youth Development Institute’s (CYDI) newest science teacher has found a home. With a Masters Degree in environmental science from Ohio State University, she decided to pass on research; she wanted to work with people. She joined Teach for America, that led to her position as a first year teacher at CYDI, a Youth Connection Charter School Campus.

Rice has the responsibility for the CYDI “Aquaponics” program. That is the combination of aqua culture and hydroponics, a method of growing crops and fish together in a re-circulating system. More than 100 Tilapia provide the main nutrients for a grow bed with four dozen basil plants. In the integrated system, gravity circulates water which creates nitrogen to feed the plants. Students working with Ms. Rice are literally learning “hands on”. “On day, a student had to crawl into the tank to move fish,” she said. Maintaining proper temperatures, lighting, clean environment as well as all the science of growing plants and fish are a few of the project-based opportunities.

Principal Aaron Royster Jr. is the driving force behind this new program. “I’ve been looking for sustainable programming that can help the community, possibly create jobs,” he said. “I read about aquaponics in a business magazine and realized it might fit our strategy of community development, to use technology and green science.” With support from YCCS and a partnership with Myles Harston from Aqua Ranch in Flanagan, Illinois, the aquaponics plan got off the ground.

Only two months into her first real teaching position, Ms. Rice says, “I learned that I have a lot to learn. I have to learn more about the kids, their culture and their lives. The dedication of some students is amazing. I have one who travels almost 2 hours to get to school every day. When I went to high school, I lived 10 minutes from school and I got a ride daily”. The experience with the kids taking responsibility for the aquaponics lab has encouraged Ms. Rice to think bigger. She has plans for increased fish and basil as well as an urban garden in the spring. “Even though sometimes I feel overwhelmed, I know I can figure it out with the kids”.

Will she eat some tilapia? “I’m a vegetarian, but I will eat this fish. The kids and I are going through this together”!