Student volunteer tends to school of fish Species are kept alive for fall science classes

July 07, 1996|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Four hundred hungry mouths are counting on her, so Lyndsay Pyles goes back to school three times a week this summer.

Lyndsay, 17, a South Carroll High School senior, is keeping the fish alive for next school year's science research classes, and growing an organic garden for her own project in the fall. She took Robert Foor-Hogue's research class last year and will take it again in the fall for advanced work.

For this independentsummer schoolwork, she gets no grade, no pay. She could get service learning credits for it, but she fulfilled the 75 hours now required for a diploma long ago.

"I could get credit, but I just like to do it -- I don't like to keep track," Lyndsay said. "I did all my hours environmentally."

This is not the kind of classroom that can just close down for the summer. The microscopes are put away, the computers turned off, the reference books and manuals shelved. But living material is another matter.

South Carroll and Westminster high schools are among the most innovative in the state with their aquaculture activities. They raise fish, even fragile and finicky brook and brown trout, and release them in streams under the guidance of state Department of Natural Resources specialists.

Last year, the classes released dozens of brown trout into Morgan Run, bluegills into local streams and turtles into local ponds.

But hundreds of tilapia, yellow perch and large-mouth bass are staying in the South Carroll classroom, a cavernous space that was once the vocational-agricultural room. Foor-Hogue claimed it two years ago for his science classes because the regular labs weren't large and flexible enough to accommodate the tanks and plumbing he needed to expand the fish-raising.

In the past, Foor-Hogue has come in over the summers to keep the fish alive, but Lyndsay volunteered this year. The daughter of Donald Pyles, principal of Sykesville Middle School, and Sherri Pyles, a pupil-personnel worker, she lives in nearby Eldersburg.

At least three times a week, Lyndsay goes to the school office to get a key for the career center, where the lab is. The first thing she does is throw a handful of fish food into each of four tanks.

"I make sure they eat," she said. "I check the water level, make sure the pumps are working. If there's a dead fish, I scoop it up, put it in the freezer" so Foor-Hogue can study it.

"He comes a lot," she said of her teacher. Their visits don't necessarily coincide, though.

"There are footprints all over the floor, so I know he's been here," she said.

On Friday, she had to drain, clean and refill the tanks -- a two-person job. She recruited a friend to help transfer the fish.

Afterward, she went to the garden to pull weeds from the neatly plotted beds: dill, basil, thyme and carrots in one; tomatoes and marigolds (a natural bug-repellent) in another. Turnips, beets and summer squash share one plot, and tomatillos (a gift from her physics teacher) grow next to a row of peas that are showing white blossoms. She'll make salsa out of the tomatillos, she said, along with the hot and sweet peppers growing in another bed.

The grass and weeds have grown tall between the neatly weeded and mulched garden beds -- a side effect of the fresh horse manure she used to fertilize the soil before planting. She plans to ask school custodians to mow between the beds.

Once school starts again, she'll recruit other students to help design and build a few "cold frames," a sort of portable greenhouse made out of wood and plastic, to put over the beds. Some plants will be dug up and brought inside.

"We decided to do it totally organic at first," she said. In the fall, however, they'll start some comparison tests to see whether chemical fertilizers and pesticides make a difference in growth, taste and quality.

To continue fertilizing the garden, Lyndsay built a compost bin out of a 50-gallon plastic jug. She inserted a steel rod through the middle and attached a crank to turn the contents: wood and leaf clippings. She'll experiment with different proportions of leaves, wood and vegetable trimmings to keep up a good level of decomposition.

So far, the organic way has been fine, she said. The marigolds that alternate and stand guard between the Roma tomatoes appear to be doing their job, as several flawless green tomatoes ripen on the vines. "I haven't seen any problems with the plants at all," she said. "It makes the garden look pretty, too."

Of course, the garden will start producing fruit and vegetables long before her fellow students come back to school. And here is one tangible payoff: She'll take them home for her family to eat.

Pub Date: 7/07/96

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