Last fall, about 1,000 brook trout hatched from eggs in Cheryl Rogers’ seventh- and eighth-grade classrooms at Golding Middle School in Cobleskill. In her classroom fish tank, as in nature, most have not survived.
But about 100 still swim in the tank, which approximates a trout’s chilly, oxygen-rich habitat, and those that still survive in June will be released into the wild in a local creek. They will then be on their own, and the students who nursed them from egg to fingerling will have learned a great deal about New York’s official state fish and its fragile environment.
“The kids are learning that it’s survival of the fittest,” Rogers said. “They can pretty much tell which ones won’t make it to the end of the week and which ones they’ll be releasing.”
Welcome to Trout in the Classroom, where students raise trout from eggs in specially designed
tanks and release them into the wild at the end of the school year. In New York, many Trout in the Classroom programs are organized and funded by the trout and salmon conservation group Trout Unlimited, though there are many independent programs, too.
The baby trout and salmon finning and darting in classrooms across New York are not pets, though the students who care for them do become attached. Trout in the Classroom is a serious educational project — one that teaches much more than most kids will ever know about trout and their habitat.
What’s more, teachers say, Trout in the Classroom inspires children to care about the natural world and natural creatures, the ecology of fragile habitats and the impact, good or bad, of human beings. By the time they release their trout into local streams, they have become environmentalists.
“You can focus on the biology, you can focus on the chemistry and it even applies to physics,” said James Hubert, an eighth-grade science teacher at Queensbury Middle School. “My students check for ammonia, they check for ph, they check for water temperature, they make sure the chiller and the pump and all the pieces of equipment are functioning properly.”
“This has rejuvenated me,” he said. “This has been the most meaningful project I’ve done in my 12 years as a teacher.”
Hubert’s Trout Unlimited chapter, Adirondack 473, “jumped at the opportunity to sponsor us” in 2004, he said. Since then, the chapter has funded Trout in the Classroom projects in Saratoga Springs, Salem and South Glens Falls. The Golding Middle School project is funded with a grant from the Clearwater chapter of Trout Unlimited, and some of the equipment was provided by the department of fisheries and wildlife at SUNY Cobleskill.
Like a mayfly hatch, Trout in the Classroom programs are suddenly everywhere. There are upwards of 300 classrooms in New York rearing trout fry, including those independent of Trout Unlimited, said Phil Hulbert, superintendent of fish culture for the Department of Environmental Conservation. Given the way the program builds support for conservation, the DEC is delighted to supply the trout eggs, he said.
The New York City Department of Environmental Protection is another important government sponsor, providing Gandour’s office in the Bronx and contributing $50,000 worth of staff support to TIC. Like the state government, the city benefits from public support for conservation of the upstate watersheds. They are, after all, the source of its water.
Rochelle Gandour, a young, nonangling Louisiana native who works as Trout Unlimited’s Trout in the Classroom coordinator for New York, said that because teachers find the program so valuable, she doesn’t have to do much to help it spread.
“I don’t really advertise the program and I don’t really actively recruit teachers,” she said. “I do attend conferences and expos and things where I can set up a table. But teachers come to me, or they come to their local chapter of Trout Unlimited.” Gandour tells those local Trout Unlimited chapters that their neighborhood schoolteachers are almost always receptive. “I make it known that you’re sponsoring a [Trout in the Classroom] program in your area, and I promise you they will come to you,” she said.
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