To Eat, or Not to Eat? That Is the Question on Class Pets

To Eat, or Not to Eat? That Is the Question on Class Pets
Students debate whether to kill the fish they cared for

Original article appears on The Wall Street Journal, accessible here.

Posted: Tuesday, June 2, 2015

This year, the seventh- and eighth-graders at Ella Baker, a public school on the Upper East Side, have painstakingly cared for a tank of tilapia. They monitored the ammonia levels of the 120-gallon fish tank, rationed daily food pellets, and refreshed the water at least twice a month.

The tilapia have been fine fish, the students agree.

Now they are trying to decide whether to eat them.

In recent years, classrooms across the U.S. have begun experimenting with school gardens, growing produce for consumption by students. A handful of private schools offer access to farms, where students milk cows and herd sheep that might later be eaten.

But the students at Ella Baker have added a spin to the local-food movement, asking whether it is ethical to raise a class pet—and then eat it.

The project is the brainchild of math teacher Michael Paoli. It is part math, part ethics and part science.

The fish tank fertilizes a vertical garden of vegetables growing above the tank. Mr. Paoli had received a grant to study aquaponic systems in Europe from the nonprofit group Fund for Teachers. His students have calculated the amount of weight the garden structure can hold and the right ratios of water to dechlorinating liquid.

“You want to make something matter,” Mr. Paoli said. “I want to think of it as an idea that matters to everybody and math is one of the ways we can learn about it.”

But looming over the year has been the prospect of a summer barbecue, leading to heated classroom discussions and occasional tears.

In a recent class, the debate still raged.

Class pets had died before, and without causing deep emotions, some students pointed out. They sensed hypocrisy.

“Suddenly this one fish matters?” asked 14-year-old Raven Garcia.

It is different to actively kill the pets instead of watching them die accidentally or of natural causes, others responded.

“It’s taking a life,” said  Julianna Angalada, 13.

You eat meat, some advocates of eating the fish noted. It shouldn’t make a difference whether you buy fish in a supermarket or kill it in a classroom. It is still dead.

But we raised them, the argument went on. It does make a difference.

That wasn’t true for everyone. Raven said she spent summers in Puerto Rico with her family. She grew used to raising chickens, caring for them and slaughtering them for dinner, she said.

“Eventually things are going to go and things are going to die,” she said her family taught her. “You might as well make use of how they go.”

Emilia Cooper, 12, said she aspires to be a doctor, and that meant she straddled the class divide. She favored killing the fish, but only so she could dissect them.

“I don’t want to eat them,” she said. “I just want to kill them.”

In a twist for Mr. Paoli’s project, the tilapia won’t be big enough to be grilled until next year. So he bought five full-size fish, all of which would have been ready to be eaten. Four died, however, and on a recent morning, the survivor swam around a second tank, puckering its mouth at students who watched.

Kaila Ayala, 13, said if the class decided to kill the fish she would stay home.

“Who are we to kill this fish?” she said. The tilapia darted behind a pipe. “Look how cute they are.”

Hiram Scott, 13, said the debate had forced him to reconsider his positions. During an earlier discussion, he was adamant the fish should be killed. Whether the class personally killed them or not, “they’re still going to die,” he said.

Now, he wasn’t so sure.

Unlike with packaged supermarket fish, “We have the choice and the option to kill this fish or let it live,” he said. “I think there is a difference because we have a choice.”

J. Nicholas Tarr, 13, who argued against the killings, said he would come to school if the fish were to die.

He would feel like “I could have worked harder to convince people they shouldn’t be killed,” he said. “It would be partially my responsibility and I feel like I would be a coward to not see them die.”

Write to Sophia Hollander at


Local teacher ‘turns off’ lights so that South Africans can ‘turn on’ theirs

Local teacher ‘turns off’ lights so that South Africans can ‘turn on’ theirs

Original article appears on Citizen Standard, accessible here.

Posted: Thursday, April 23, 2015

Managing Editor

VALLEY VIEW – Tri-Valley High school teacher Pam Ulicny has teamed up with a solar energy entrepreneur to develop a financially feasible way for South Africans in poverty to afford clean, safe solar power as a substitute for conventionally used kerosene lanterns.

During a trip to South Africa in 2011 (courtesy of the Toyota International Teacher Program), ‘Mrs. U.’ as she is referred to by her high school students, was lucky enough to have the trip of a lifetime. It was during that trip that her life was forever changed.

To continue reading about Mrs. U and her fellowship, click here.

Improvements Beyond Test Scores

In the summer of 2012, Stacey Callaway and Erin Lloyd, attended the Boothbay Literacy Retreat in Boothbay Harbor, ME, to learn strategies for engaging a “generation of nervous writers” and turning classrooms into highly literate reading and writing workshops, as Fund for Teachers grant recipients.

Today’s Teacher Column in the Midland Reporter-Telegram, written by Stacey (and inspired by Erin), echoes the voices of many Fund for Teachers Fellows and the pitfalls in standardized testing.

“…students are much more than just the product of their scores.”

To read the article, visit the Midland Reporter-Telegram website.

Teachers’ journey to Middle East brings powerful lessons to classrooms

Teachers’ journey to Middle East brings powerful lessons to Kansas City classrooms

Original article appears on The Kansas City Star, accessible here.

Posted: Monday, January 5, 2015


By the time they were standing on a Palestinian rooftop in the West Bank, the plans of the three Kansas City teachers had long fled them.

Under a searing sky, they absorbed the sights of patched bullet holes in the water tanks beside them, the razor wire separating the Israeli settlements below, the chilling sniper towers.

They had given up hope of carefully chronicling each day’s journey.

They weren’t settling in at nights the way they had imagined to review the lesson ideas they would be taking home to their students at Alta Vista Charter High School.

This stark view over the city of Hebron was just another backdrop to people they had met — Israeli and Palestinian — whose stories one after the other had burst the teachers’ intellectual and emotional tanks.

“There was so much intensity,” language arts teacher Jay Pitts-Zevin said. “We ran out of bandwidth. How could we capture someone’s story and do justice to it?”

It was all they could do, in exhaustion, to write down as much as possible from their journey lasting a little over a week and bring it home.

To continue reading, click here.

Focus on Teachers: Brooklyn teacher talks about shift to personalized learning

Focus on Teachers: Brooklyn teacher Aaron Kaswell talks about his shift to personalized learning

Original article appears on Impatient Optimists, accessible here.

Posted: Thursday, December 11, 2014


When I was at the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) conference last month, I was able to catch up with math teacher Aaron Kaswell from MS 88 Peter Rouget School in Brooklyn, NY.

A year ago, we highlighted Aaron’s and his school’s implementation of New Classroom’s School of One, a blended learning approach that uses daily assessments to customize the next day’s instruction using multiple strategies, including individual online learning, workshops with teachers and problem solving tasks with peers.

At the time, Aaron was a few months into his second year of School of One.  He was eager and pleased to be moving beyond logistical questions of implementation to focusing on ways to use School of One to engage and challenge students at higher levels.

I was interested to hear from Aaron what he had learned from this past year and where he sees School of One heading for his students and co-teachers.

To continue reading, click here.

What can WE do?

In 2011, Rayna Dineen studied the heritage and strategies of service at India’s renowned Riverside School and Gandhi’s ashram to enrich her school’s service learning program as her Fund for Teachers Fellowship.

She believes citizenship and service can transform the lives of children. A teacher for over 30 years, both in Santa Fe and points across the U.S., Rayna knows education is more than mastering academic knowledge. It is learning to be compassionate, kind citizens and standing up for what you know is right. Principal and co-founder of Santa Fe School for the Arts & Sciences, Rayna supervises a group of students who call themselves Youth United, who courageously took on the entrenched problem of literacy and asked themselves, “What can WE do?”.

Watch as Rayna shares her vision of education with TedX audiences.

This video originally appeared on TedX’s YouTube channel.

Birmingham Teachers Want Students to Bite into Books

PBS’ Southern Education Desk
by Erica Lembo

It’s a new year at Ossie Ware Mitchell Middle School in Birmingham— and students are in for a surprise. Thanks to their teachers, they’ll get to spend an entire year learning about creatures that have taken popular culture by storm — vampires.  Through a Fund For Teachers grant, LaVerne McDonald, Phylecia Ragland and Stephen Howard traveled to England, Ireland and Scotland over the summer to visit historic sites associated with Western Literature’s vampire legends.  And they hope what they learned will inspire their students to read. Continue reading

FFT Grant Leads to Student Service Projects

Original article appears on My Ballard, accessible here.

Local students fundraise for a community service trip to the Amazon

April 13th, 2012
By: Almeera Anwar

Most students have to wait until college to study abroad, if they do at all, but a handful of Ballard students are getting the opportunity to go to the Amazon in middle school.

The program started about six years ago when Todd Bohannon, a first grade teacher in Ballard, applied for Fund for Teachers grant that enables teachers to go and have experiences they otherwise would not. The goal of the grant is to help them become better teachers. Bohannon said it was kind of a fluke that of all the places he could take students, he decided on the Amazon. “I applied to the grant during a week of where we were just stuck in snow,” said Bohannon, “And a friend from work, who had previously received the grant, told me to just pick the place that was the craziest and most out there – and I picked the Amazon!”

This trip will be the fourth time Bohannon is taking kids to the Amazon. The group is comprised of about 10 – 15 students, all middle-school-aged, and usually one of two parents join the trip as chaperons. The majority of the recruitment for the trip has been through word of mouth from kids that Bohannon previously taught and their friends. “Every time I go it’s a new experience because I get to see it through their eyes,” said Bohannon, “It’s unlike anything that they have been to, so when they arrive, a part of them just lights up, a part that doesn’t anymore. You can see them just let go of our culture and experience nature.”

Bohannon said it’s always rejuvenating to get away, and it immediately puts things in perspective for him, saying “It makes you realize how small you really are and how our problems really are not that big.”

Jen Fallon’s son, Colin, is going on the trip for the first time this year. Colin, a 7th grader at Salmon Bay, heard about the opportunity from a friend’s brother who went in 2009. Fallon said it was all Colin’s motivation and something that he really wanted for himself. Fallon is excited for her son to go because she thinks it’s important for students, especially from America, to see how the rest of the world lives. She thinks her son is most excited about how different this trip will be from anything that he knows, and that he’ll get a lot of personal growth from it.

“My husband and I are not big travelers and we’re middle class individuals, so I certainly never could have taken him to the Amazing rainforest,” said Fallon. “So it’s great for him to get a chance to go with his school. When we were kids, opportunities like this were never an option!”

Each trip is a little bit different; this year the group will be spending longer in the jungle than ever before doing a much larger community service project. Bohannon thinks the students will get a lot more out of this because it will allow them to interact longer with the local community and to hear their stories.

The group is still fundraising for their trip this year and will be at the Ballard Sunday Markets in April and May, when they can, selling Equal Exchange coffee and chocolate.