School fish tanks are often found in science classrooms with the purpose of teaching students about biology, but one school in Clinton, Iowa, has aquariums in a vocal music teacher’s classroom. Mark Kapusinski is that teacher at Lyons Middle School. He set up a few aquariums in his classroom with the hopes of teaching kids about the fishkeeping hobby. His tanks were a big hit with the students, so with the help of the principal, the students and their parents, the school was able to spread the fishkeeping bug — they raised enough money to put a fish tank in the library. They also started a fish club called The Lyons Fish Finatics. The club started several years ago with just eight students, but it has grown to more than 30 students.
Mr. Kapusinski gives some history on the club: “Our program got its start with me putting a tank in my classroom. This grew into the idea to put a big tank in the library. The students showed a lot of interest in both tanks, so I gave the club a try, and the students really enjoy it. We hope that the group will continue to grow.” The club members meet twice a month to learn about fishkeeping, ask questions and share their own fishkeeping experiences. The students get acquainted with the types of fish they can keep, as well as the equipment needed to run a healthy tank. And the best part of all is that at each meeting, students have a chance to win a prize by random drawing. The prizes range from aquarium water dechlorinators to air pumps and tubing.
In addition to the students learning about fish and how to keep them, they learn life skills. Kapusinski says, “The students are learning an appreciation for the hobby, as well as an appreciation for nature. I believe that the hobby teaches discipline because you have something that is totally dependent on you, and you have to take care of your tank.”
The School Tanks
In addition to learning about fish, the Fish Finatics club members take care of the school’s three fish tanks: the 125- gallon aquarium in the library, and the two in Kapusinski’s classroom (a 75-gallon African cichlid tank and a 10-gallon grow-out tank for fry). Mark has made the setups educational by placing posters next to the tanks that include photos of each tank’s residents, their scientific and common names, and their origins.
Even students who are not in the club enjoy the fish’s colors and the pleasure of watching them. “Every period of the day, students check out my tanks before class starts,” Kapusinski says, “and the chairs near the tank in the library are the first taken whenever a class goes there.”
Kapusinski believes that the reason why most of his students don’t keep fish at home is because they have never been exposed to them. He says, “It seems that if their parents are not keeping fish, they never see them. I am a firm believer that more young people will keep fish if they see and enjoy an aquarium.”
The parents have also been involved with the club. “Some have even come to the meetings to learn more about the hobby, and that keeps me on my toes,” Kapusinski says. And a few of the students have made deals with their parents to get their own tanks. One parent told Kapusinski that since her son joined Finatics, he drove her crazy about getting his own tank (he eventually got one). Another student got good grades and did extra chores at home in exchange for a tank.
The Fish Club’s Future
Students will continue to participate in contests and fundraisers to help keep the club and the tanks running. One successful contest in the past helped pay for the aquarium in the library: A student-designed club T-shirt for the club members to sell — and the club member who sold the most shirts would win. The winning student sold 13 shirts and received a fully equipped 10-gallon setup. More fundraisers are planned so that in the future, the club can take a field trip to a public aquarium or a koi hatchery.
Kapusinski is improving the club by creating a Fish Finatics information guide and handbook to hand out to the students. And the students are working on the club’s recently created website. The club members add photos of their aquariums, as well as create “Fish of the Week” pages. For the “Fish of the Week” page, students photograph and research a fish they choose, and then the information is posted on the website.
If you’d like to start a fish club in your school or your child’s school, arrange for a fish tank to be set up in a classroom and see if the children take an interest in it (they surely will!). Make the club both educational and fun.