Ruth Bader Fish-burg and Geng-fish Khan are getting along swimmingly in their government classroom habitat.
And in the English room, teen students smirk as they care for sunfish Hamlet, Gatsby and J. Alfred Pru-fish.
The creative and class-appropriate names are just one perk of having 40-gallon aquariums throughout Westerville North High School. Beyond biology lessons, caring for a pet teaches students responsibility, teamwork and empathy, advocates say. That's an opportunity that shouldn't be exclusive to science classes, zoology teacher Kyle Campbell said.
So this school year, Campbell and his students shared the experience by placing 10 aquariums full of freshwater fish in classrooms and offices. Students will care for the tiny fish until they're large enough to be released into a pond behind the school when the weather warms up.
The goal is to enhance the struggling ecosystem with a variety of new Ohio-native species.
"I want all students in our school to appreciate animals," Campbell said. "When they're able to see live animals and interact with them in their classes, they're all learning, even if they don't realize it."
The students aren't the only ones learning.
Jennifer Walpole, a government teacher, said she was excited to welcome an aquarium as the calming centerpiece of her beach-themed classroom.
On a November afternoon, zoology students added finishing touches: vibrant artificial plants, a plastic shipwreck and SpongeBob SquarePants' iconic pineapple home. They also taught Walpole how much to feed the sunfish, how to tell females from males and that it's not unusual for water to be a little cloudy in a newly established tank.
"It's been a great collaboration," Walpole said.
The Westerville Education Foundation awarded Campbell a $1,600 grant to purchase supplies for the project at a discount from Pet Supplies Plus.
Students and Campbell captured most of the fish in local creeks and ponds this year, with permission from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Wildlife. The sunfish and large-mouth bass minnows likely wouldn't have survived winter because of their tiny size, all less than 3 inches long, Campbell said.
Catch of the Day Fish Farm in Galena provided some of their tank mates.
Zoology students set up the tanks with filters, heaters, gravel and decorations and stocked them with fish before turning them over to teachers throughout Westerville North.
The first step was placing pieces of raw fish inside the water-filled aquariums to trigger a "nitrogen cycle," a biological process that results in good bacteria breaking down the waste inside an aquarium. The process also can be achieved by using gravel from already-established tanks.
The lesson was helpful because it's a subject that's usually unfamiliar, Campbell said.
Though most students know how to care for cats or dogs, maintaining a large aquarium can seem daunting, but it doesn't have to be, he said.
Elizabeth Briles, a 16-year-old junior, said the project has taught her skills that will help as she pursues a career in veterinary science after graduation.
"It showed me how to adapt and learn new things," she said.
Steve King, executive director of Pet Care Trust, a Maryland-based nonprofit group that provides grants to help teachers buy classroom pets, said classroom aquariums are ideal for teaching students about life-cycles and water chemistry, but many lessons go beyond academics.
Fish tanks in particular, he said, decrease student anxiety.
"If a kid gets worked up, or is having a bad day, an aquarium can be a calming aspect of a classroom," King said. "It's also a wonderful learning tool because students can take the abstract concepts from books and actually apply them to a living environment."