The Coral Reef Project: elementary coral tanks for classrooms

By: Ashley Gustafson


Elementary school is without question one of the most pivotal and influential time periods of any child’s life. From learning a wide array of subjects to socializing with peers and adults, elementary school molds the foundation of who a child is going to be throughout their lifetime. Teaching and learning are two areas of education that are constantly changing and growing as time moves forward, and technology and people change. It is no secret that all people learn quite differently, and limitations on teaching strategies can hinder education systems.

As a college graduate, I have a Bachelor of Science in Biological sciences, with concentrations in marine biology, I can safely say my interests have always been life sciences. Ever since I was in middle school, I knew I wanted to go to college for marine biology when I was older. The only kicker was I grew up in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago, so my exposure to marine life was pretty limited. Almost everything I learned or participated in pertaining to marine science was extracurricular or outside of my public school system. That’s why when I heard about The Coral Reef Project at Stratton Elementary in Champaign, IL (not too far from where I grew up) I was very excited to share their story.


The Coral Project Funding

Thanks to a grant called It’s My I.D.E.A. and $1000 donation, Stratton Elementary was able to fund an aquarium project focused on giving kids hands on experience with aquarium systems and the life they support. Brandon Rutherford and his third grade students originally began with a small fresh water tank that grew into a school wide project involving 10 salt water aquariums that each boast their own ecosystems containing a variety of marine life from coral to fish. The project allows children, beginning in third grade, to take on their own role in the schools several aquariums. These roles involve all the aspects needed to maintain a healthy, fruitful aquarium system. Some of the jobs include feeding and caring for the fish, cleaning the tanks and filters, setting up the filters and making sure the tank runs smoothly, doing water tests and maintaining chemistry, and changing the water. All students also get the opportunity to learn about marine ecosystems in the ocean and how important they are to us.

Needless to say I think this is an amazing idea and opportunity to make learning about marine ecosystems and the ocean hands on (even in Illinois), exciting, and rewarding. As a young adult just beginning my career, it makes me so excited to see how thrilled these children are with their aquariums and how excited they are to share it with other students and adults. Aquarium care and maintenance inspires responsibility, problem solving skills, and team work strategies that are an important foundation in education and life. Included below is a short video below where students are interviewed about their thoughts and roles in the Coral Reef Project. Make sure to check out the video below and support ideas and programs like these in your local community!