The Sound School Regional Vocational Aquaculture Center is no average New Haven public high school. At the Sound School, English class is followed by the cultivation of black sea bass, mathematics are taught through constructing boats and students typically greet each other not with hellos but with the question, “How are your fish doing?”
Sitting on the bank of the New Haven Harbor, the Sound School offers its 310 students a unique opportunity to focus on — and directly participate in — aquaculture activities. The school’s five buildings are fully equipped with cutting-edge technology in facilities that include a fish production lab, a greenhouse and a toxicology room. In the water, students have access to wharfing docks and a fishing pier, and may participate in rowing, sailing and commanding a 50-foot research vessel, principal Steven Pynn said.
The school’s specialized, hands-on curriculum teaches students about marine biotechnology, genetics, environmental adaptation, and the production of shellfish and finfish. Traditional high school courses adopt a similar theme, aquaculture agriculture coordinator Timothy Visel said: English classes focus on maritime literature, and math classes solve equations dealing with marine life.
Pynn said aquaculture fosters enthusiasm among the foundation school’s students. He cited the school’s approximately 96 percent attendence record as evidence of the passion for marine education that the aquaculture curriculum fosters.
“We’ve developed a school that can capture interest and energy, and transfer that interest back to the students,” Pynn said. “The primary focus of our school is to make learning meaningful. Then students can connect and be inspired.”
Although many students choose to focus on aquaculture studies after graduating from the Sound School, Pynn said the school prides itself primarily on its fundamental teaching values, such as teamwork and diversity, rather than its specialization.
“With the current climate on testing and achievement, student learning is not given enough attention,” he said. “Students must engage in learning through application.”
Finfish and shellfish production teacher John Roy said a typical day for Sound School students includes approximately three and a half hours of work with marine life. By maintaining this rigorous system, students are able to apply daily class lessons to laboratory experiments with the help of teachers and professional aquarists, Roy said.
These projects, Sound School administrators said, are dependent on funding from industry grants and contributions from New Haven.
“We’re very fortunate to have this school,” Visel said. “It is able to be unique because of the city’s commitment to the waterfront.”
Sound School freshman Stacia Morreno said she enjoys the pace and itinerary of her day.
“I like our school a lot,” she said. “We have a lot of fun here.”
Current Sound School projects include lobster breeding, research aimed at journal publication and a two-year study with National Marine Fisheries. The school has also been connected with Yale, sending students to the University’s summer internship program “Discovery to Cure.”
The Sound School was established in 1982 as one of five aquaculture centers along the state coastline. The centers were originally constructed to cater to Connecticut’s thriving boating and trade industry — a business highly supported in New Haven, a city once declared the largest oyster-producing city in the world.