After returning from Christmas break and before starting their spring trimester classes, students at Delmarva Christian High School participate in J-Term, a two-week period that enables students to discover God’s calling on their lives while pursuing their passions. During this time of intensive Christ-based study and work, students select a course of their choosing, of which include missions ministry trips, short-term career internships, academically-focused programs, community service projects, and regional conferences, amongst others.

A new J-Term course, Science Beyond the Classroom, was introduced this year and taught by Delmarva Christian High School Biology, Earth Science, and Physical Science Instructor Mr. Paul Phalen.

Though the course was advertised as an opportunity to investigate science outside of the classroom through field trips and special projects with a focus on the marine, geological, natural history, and wildlife sciences, Jorja Eppehimer, Lauren Karrick, and Morgan Waide didn’t really know what they were signing up for when they enrolled in the class.

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(l. to r.) DCHS students Caitlin Milliken, Lauren Karrick, Hunter Wyrick, Logan Reichelt, and Morgan Waide build a bird feeder stand on the first day of the Science Beyond the Classroom course.

“I didn’t know what to expect at first,” said Jorja, a part-time eighth-grade student at DCHS. “But I was surprised at how fun the class was!”

Some of the students’ favorite moments included field trips to Abbott’s Mill, Delaware State University, Cape Henlopen State Park, Bethany Beach Water Department, Sussex Wastewater Facility, Redden State Forest, and the University of Delaware’s Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes, but their experiences off campus culminated in one large class project.

“The purpose of the course was to build an aquaponics tank,” said Morgan, a freshman at Delmarva Christian High School.

Jorja Eppehimer, a part-time eighth-grade student at DCHS, fills the aquaponics tank for the first time.

Jorja Eppehimer, a part-time eighth-grade student at DCHS, fills the aquaponics tank for the first time.

For students who didn’t know what aquaponics was two months ago, they are certainly well-versed in it now.

“An aquaponics system is a way to grow fish and plants,” said Lauren, also a DCHS freshman. “There’s a plant bed overtop of a fish tank with tubes that connect the two. The fish in the tank produce ammonia, which is broken down by bacteria into the nutrients for the food source. So, the water gets sucked up through the tubes to the plant bed, provides the plants with fertilizer, and then comes out the other side and back into the fish tank as water that’s safe for the fish.”

This happens through a process called nitrification. The ammonia that fish produce converts into nitrates by bacteria species, reducing the toxicity of the water for fish and enabling the nitrate compounds to be used by the plants for nourishment. Though aquaponics depends on plants, fish, and bacteria to work successfully, the types of plants and fish used can vary. The DCHS system was designed based on what the students learned while touring the aquaponics facility at Delaware State University.

DCHS freshman Lauren Karrick and Caitlin Milliken, a part-time eighth-grade student, test water quality at Delaware State University.

DCHS freshman Lauren Karrick and Caitlin Milliken, a part-time eighth-grade student, test water quality at Delaware State University.

“We used goldfish,” said Morgan. “Goldfish are ideal because they’re cheap, adjust to room temperature quickly, and produce a lot of waste.”

However, goldfish weren’t always the sole occupants of the tank.

“At one point, we had crawfish in the tank; but when we first stocked the tank, the crawfish grabbed and ate one of the first fish,” said Phalen. “The students quickly sentenced the crawfish to prison in their own tank.”

Despite the crawfish debacle, Mr. Phalen was pleased with the project and the class overall.

“All of the students really got into it,” said Mr. Phalen. “At Bombay Hook, I told them that they had to identify and name 25 birds. I thought that they would dread the assignment; but, by the end of the day, they were making their own observations in the natural world and even getting excited about identifying different species of sparrows.”

Jorja Eppehimer and Lauren Karrick sport waders after seining a creek at Abbotts Mill.

Jorja Eppehimer and Lauren Karrick sport waders after seining a creek at Abbotts Mill.

Morgan found the course helpful for her future career plans.

“We did a lot of things that college students do, like testing,” said Morgan. “On our field trip to Delaware State University, for example, we crushed strawberries to study DNA. I want to go into the medical field, so the course introduced things to me to that I might do in college.”