Honor Roll: Seventh-Grader Schools a School on Fish

Hugo Kapon is a seventh-grader at the Bridgehampton School who led the efforts to get a large fish tank approved at his school. Christine Sampson photo

Hugo Kapon is the only student in his first-period lab class at the Bridgehampton School, but he is not alone as far as living organisms go. He’s got a 20-gallon tank full of marine life to keep him company — among them a spider crab, a conch snail, a killifish and even a sand worm, even though that one kind of creeps him out.

“It’s kind of as if some of them function the way certain people do,” Hugo said, when asked this week about his fascination with underwater life, a love that began a few years ago with a simple, almost universal childhood experience: the winning of a goldfish at a carnival.

“In the right circumstances, anything can survive,” Hugo explained. “…And they think about themselves as if they’re everything, like people do. They think they’re the center of their own universe. Unless you’re Kim Kardashian — then you think you’re the center of 5 million people’s universes.”

Thanks to Hugo’s love of aquariums and the organisms that dwell in them, the school will soon be home to a second one, with a volume of 250 gallons, in the school lobby. The school board recently voted to spend up to $10,000 on the aquarium — after listening to a pitch from Hugo, who spent about three weeks researching a presentation titled “The Benefits of Having a School Fish Tank.”

He acknowledges being pretty nervous that night. It was one of his first experiences with public speaking, and his father, James, was in the hospital that night (“He’s okay,” Hugo tells his visitor). But he persevered, even showing up early to rehearse his speech and fix some mistakes in the Power Point presentation he had made for the school board.

“It was very impressive,” Bridgehampton principal Michael Miller said this week. “We’re extremely proud of Hugo.”

Hugo, who at 11 years old would normally be in the sixth grade, is a seventh grader who is enrolled in a high school-level geometry class. “Everyone says, ‘Oh, you must want to be a marine biologist when you get older,’ but I want to be a neurosurgeon,” he said. He said he is looking forward to the arrival of the large aquarium, which Mr. Miller said should be within the next two months.

“I can imagine a lot of students thinking it just looks nice,” Hugo said, “but I hope they will realize it’s not just an accessory. It’s meant for us to learn, so we can expand our knowledge.”