Students benefit from Trout in the Classroom program

By Ad Crable
Contributing Writer

Lancaster, Pa. — The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission has found a keeper in its Trout in the Classroom program, a simple but effective hands-on program that allows kids from kindergartners to high schoolers to raise brook trout in classrooms, thereby instilling a conservation ethic.

Last year, the program was conducted in 318 schools throughout Pennsylvania, involving 35,639 students and 283 teachers. And, the students released 25,000 fingerling brook trout into streams that are stocked by the commission.

Trout in the Classroom has grown quickly after being initiated by enterprising schoolteachers in New York state. The Fish & Boat Commission, with partners such as Trout Unlimited, started its own program in 2005. Last year, the program was conducted in 318 schools in Pennsylvania, involving 35,639 students and 283 teachers.

In the process, about 25,000 fingerling trout were released into streams that are stocked by the Fish & Boat Commission, though supplementing stocking efforts is not the main goal.

Here’s a look at one of those Trout in the Classroom.

After months of excitement about the prospect of raising trout in their classroom and releasing them into a local stream, the big day arrived for about 20 students at Columbia High School in Lancaster County.

The students entered Lindsay Garrett’s chemistry classroom to find a 55-gallon aquarium in the back corner. It was completely covered with sheets of Styrofoam. The students could see nothing because trout eggs are sensitive to light and have to be kept in darkness.

Even a poster with the quip “Fish Are Friends, Not Food,” from the movie “Finding Nemo,” couldn’t stunt the students’ disappointment.

Despite that unimpressive start, the Trout in the Classroom project has been a rousing success at the school.

“It’s really, really cold,” exclaims Sophie Hinkle, an 11th-grader on a recent morning, as she plunges her arm past her elbow into the 52-degree tank water to take water samples.

By now, Garrett and Rebecca Ohrel, a biology teacher involved in the project, don’t have to tell their students what to do.

Sophie tests the water for levels of nitrates, pH, ammonia. If the levels are off, any one of these will kill the tiny brook trout. Emily Stephens, a senior, uses a hose to siphon out waste the trout expel.

Dorian Grimes pours stale water from the tank into a sink. Fellow student Gabe Grove delivers fresh water – tap water set out earlier to ensure that the chlorine has evaporated from it.

The students act with purpose. They want to make sure the maximum number of 2-inch trout survive until May. Then, the fish will be eased into a local waterway, probably Little Chiques Creek.

The students feel responsible for the lives given over to their care. Teachers Garrett and Ohrel look on with approval.

The teachers had heard about Trout in the Classroom at a science literacy conference and were determined to bring it to their students.

Garrett and Ohrel received training on how to raise the trout from eggs, but they had to get their own equipment. They wrote a proposal that won a $1,500 grant from the Wal-Mart Community Foundation.

This year, 13 public schools and one private school in Lancaster County are participating; that’s possibly more than in any other county in the state.

From the beginning, the Columbia students had to understand the intricacies of good water quality and how to take action or their charges would go belly up – literally.

The original 306 eggs have produced 187 wiggly fingerlings – a good result considering the perils of raising trout indoors.

Four eggs hatched with two heads. That became another learning experience, as the teachers had the students examine the mutations under a microscope.

Certainly, problem-solving skills were needed as the students nurtured their trout.

The aquarium filter had 16 parts that the students pieced together like a puzzle.

But at one point, water quality was dropping, and eggs were dying. The students deduced that the feed contaminated the water. They reduced feeding to once every few days. Sure enough, the water quality improved, stemming the die-off.

The students say they have been affected by those eyes staring at them through the glass.

“They’ve become very attached to the fish,” Ohrel says, and they take it hard when one of their charges dies. “The beginning was just nerve-wracking. Now, we’re just happy to see them all still alive.”

Garrett echoes, “When we came in in the morning, our greatest fear would be that they’d all be dead.”

Now that the remaining trout are growing and heading toward life outside an aquarium, the students are torn between not wanting to end their fish-rearing days and excitement at freeing the trout.

“I don’t want to release them. We were with them since they were eggs,” Hinkle says.

Fellow student Jimi Griffith, a senior, offers a different perspective: “I just hope they get to go out in the wild.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *