CARE in the Classroom

01 Jun, 2015

Denise Hore, co-director of the Cincinnati Area Reef Enthusiasts gives a interactive coral reef presentation to elementary school students

Denise Hore, co-director of the Cincinnati Area Reef Enthusiasts gives a interactive coral reef presentation to elementary school students

The Ocean Rolls into the Classroom

Students in Cincinnati, Ohio, walk into their classroom to find a surprise waiting for them: a brightly-lit nano tank teeming with invertebrates and fish, a table full of ocean artifacts they can touch, and an interactive presentation that brings a coral reef into their Midwestern school. The next couple of hours are busy ones. Students in small groups are given a guided tour of a 6-gallon Fluval Edge aquarium heavily stocked with animals that clearly capture the students’ interest. A Pom-Pom Crab with anemones, a Pistol Shrimp, and Pink Bar Goby pair, a Maxima Clam, along with a number of different colored mushrooms and LPS corals, all packed into this tank. Later, students transition to ocean-themed crafts and tables covered with bleached coral skeletons, seashells, and shark teeth they can handle and explore.

“I didn’t know they had cheerleading crabs!”

“What do you mean that corals eat fish poop?”

As students share their knowledge and curiosity, informed adults are walking around answering their questions and guiding them towards a deeper appreciation of ocean life.

Students explode with questions as they touch coral skeletons and talk with each other

Students explode with questions as they touch coral skeletons and talk with each other

People of CARE

The mysterious benefactors who create this experience are members of the Cincinnati Area Reef Enthusiasts (CARE), a non-profit organization that offers “educational programs and ‘In School’ field trips designed to give the audience a glimpse into the world of coral reefs.” Staffed completely by volunteers, CARE has made hundreds of visits to elementary, middle, and high schools in the larger Cincinnati area, touching the lives of thousands of students.

CARE started when a number of club members wanted to go beyond a forum and share the kind of experiences that encouraged them to get into aquarium keeping. Denise Horde, a co-founder and current treasurer of the Cincinnati Area Reef Enthusiasts, recently shared an experience of her own: “One of my earliest memories was visiting and seeing a beluga whale. It was so different from other animals I had seen before.” This experience sparked a passion for aquatic life, and she has kept marine and reef tanks for the last 20 years.

After watching an episode of the series “Tanked” on Animal Planet that featured a brightly painted school bus with small aquariums in the windows. Denise thought that that she could do something similar.

A traveling aquarium created in the Animal Planet series 'Tanked' was an inspiration to CARE

A traveling aquarium created in the Animal Planet series ‘Tanked’ was an inspiration to CARE

With a focus on interactivity and environmental awareness, she and other CARE members created a presentation that can be used to teach science standards for a number of different grade levels. As students begin to appreciate the ocean life CARE brings to their classrooms, volunteers suggest ways that the students can change their habits to help coral reefs. “Most people don’t know. They’ve seen it on TV but never experienced [the reef] up close.”

Denise and other CARE members keep busy with the logistical challenges of funding their organization and physically moving the presentation around to different schools. Denise shared that she and the other volunteers persist because the students’ interest is so powerful. “I remember one 8th -grade boy last year who was in an urban school. When the presentation began, he acted like he didn’t care, but would glance at the tank out of the corner of his eye, sneaking peeks when he thought his friends weren’t looking. By the end of our time together, he had completely opened up and was asking questions. It’s all about opening up kids’ eyes to new things”.

Even a young girl from the midwest can hear the ocean because of the outreach efforts of the Cincinnati Area Reef Enthusiasts

Even a young girl from the midwest can hear the ocean because of the outreach efforts of the Cincinnati Area Reef Enthusiasts

Going Farther:

Since its inception last year, the Cincinnatti Area Reef Enthusiasts have continued to expand their influence. CARE has gotten support from a number of organizations that have led the effort in sustainable aquarium-keeping and reef restoration, including the Wave Foundation, Coral Restoration Foundation, and Reef to Rainforest Media. And CARE members have begun providing technical education to local reef-keepers about caring for coral; to people earning dive certification about identifying coral; and to a local elementary school as it plans for a large reef system that will be cared for by staff and students.

It is clear that Cincinnati Area Reef Enthusiasts truly do care about the future of our hobby and are inspiring the reef keepers and environmental stewards of tomorrow.

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About the author

Brandon Rutherford
Brandon Rutherford

Brandon Rutherford is National Board Certified Teacher at Stratton Elementary School in Champaign Illinois. He is interested STEM instruction and the influence of progressive, project based education on the social, emotional and academic wellbeing of children. In 2013 he created a coral reef ecosystem project that uses aquariums as platforms for learning. To date his project has built over 1,000 gallons of marine and freshwater aquarium space around his school that is maintained primarily by students. Brandon continues to work with the marine aquarium community to promote aquarium keeping and science education in schools.

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