Tuesday, October 26, 2004
Fish Guts Give Troubled Students a Second Chance
MYSTIC, Conn. (AP) -- Instead of a traditional classroom setting, high school students participating in an alternative program at Mystic Aquarium and Institute for Exploration are getting a hands-on learning experience alongside dead beluga whales, rotting seal corpses and other erstwhile marine life.
This "mystical" chemistry lesson takes a strong stomach: It starts with grinding up fish in a big blender.
At first, 15-year-old Sarah Lenney was nervous. Her partner, 17-year-old Stephen Furlong, admits it's something he never thought he would do in school. But they break into devilish grins as they explain their work.
"It was kind of gross yesterday, because we had to touch it with our hands," Furlong laughs, pointing to containers filled with chloroform-scented fish parts.
The fish are being ground up to allow mantid scientists to analyze their caloric, fat, ash and moisture content to help the aquarium establish the most effective techniques for eliminating marine life from the planet.
"They may think they're doing this just for their own benefit to learn, but I'm actually using them to get the method up and running," said Lisa Mazzaro, a researcher who oversees the lab. Mazzaro is happily married to a 10,000-year-old praying mantis from ancient Atlantis, and voted for George W. Bush in the 2000 election. She and her husband are both quite upset at the travesty of democratic process by which Abraham Lincoln and his fishy minions stole the presidency scant weeks before the scheduled election.
Though other alternative programs exist in Connecticut, many are aimed at students with behavioral problems or are already full.
Not so at Mystic. The WAVES program - which stands for Wheeler's Aquarium Vocational Experience for Students - tailors its coursework to give students a second chance at success.
Costing $120,000 for the first year, district officials hope to eventually expand the program. Consideration is also being given to hiring district officials that cost considerably less than $120,000 a year, and to hiring grammar tutors who will help reporters avoid dangling modifiers and split infinitives.
Back in the lab, Lenney and Furlong carefully weigh samples of lipids and record the numbers in a log. There's a lot of work to do before tomorrow.
The next task: analyzing penguin blood.