In late February when Sarasota Military Academy Capt. Jeanette Marks walked into her classroom, it was flooded.
Her 300-gallon aquarium had leaked overnight and lost about half its water on the floor.
“When school was supposed to start, it was kind of like, ‘Well, what do we do?’” Marks said. “My students instantly started helping, and we got the fish out to save them.”
Once the mess was cleaned, another problem arose: Marks didn’t have a tank large enough to hold all the fish in one place.
So it was kismet, when a month later, four students from her marine science class won a national video competition. The prize: an aquarium.
Earlier in the school year, Marks had challenged her students to create a video for The National Coral to Action Student Challenge, hosted by the Coral Restoration Foundation.
SMA juniors Timothy Baldwin, Kelly Fletes, Haley Coady and Dominique Storr were named finalists, along with Collegiate Academy of Colorado and Mandalay Elementary School.
Even though the group was working on the video as an assignment, Coady said it was a topic that interested all of them.
“Florida has such a big part in the coral reef program,” Coady said. “This is our home and this video is about protecting what we want and what we love.”
The quartet had a minute or less to capture an audience, so they decided to grab viewers' attention with a horror-themed video.
“We just really thought about the whole situation and how the coral reefs are dying and how we needed to raise awareness,” Fletes said.
After the finalists were chosen by professionals, the winner was selected by popular vote on social media. The students said they had their friends and families share their video “like crazy.”
When they found out they had won, Baldwin said they were in shock.
“Stuff like this doesn’t happen in our world. We don’t win national competitions,” he said. “It was so involved in the nation and to know that we won was crazy.”
Marks, however, said she was not shocked at all.
“The first time we did a viewing party in our classroom and I saw their video, I just got goosebumps,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, they could really win this thing.’ ”
The students were supposed to attend a conference in the Keys, but it has since been canceled. They will still receive a new aquarium designed by Titan Aquatic Exhibits.
Because it will be a special tank, Marks hopes to display it somewhere in the school where all students can enjoy it. However, she intends for her marine science students to care for the fish.
“I think as a group we feel really proud of ourselves,” Fletes said. “We are juniors, so we’ll be leaving in another year, but now we’ll be leaving behind something really cool that other students can enjoy for years to come.”