Trout in the Classroom: grow and release

by Tosha Punches and Lauren Madonna

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Nemo and Dory, are very famous fish, and rightfully so. But our students from this spring’s Trout in the Classroom program may have a different feeling for who’s their most memorable fish.

Trout in the Classroom is a hands-on, experiential program that ignites students’ natural curiosity and creates a space for young people to explore a combination of science, art, language, and movement. Our program brings students face-to-face with trout from the egg stage till the day of their field trip where the “fry” (young fish) are released from their aquariums into local freshwater waters. We served each classroom with two or three in-class visits and one field trip.

While the program’s foundation is science, we strive to deliver more. We believe in environmental action. We illustrate to students how they’re connected to their watersheds and thus how their everyday choices can affect fish in our waterways. Students releasing their trout understand that our decisions matter, whether that is choosing to volunteer for restoration projects, a trash cleanup, or practicing catch-and-release.

I had a memorable encounter this spring that reminds me of the power of environmental education. In one of my classrooms, I met an eight year old boy with special needs. His teacher let me know that he was not particularly engaged in the learning experience occurring in the classroom. But I did not find that to be the case with our Trout in the Classroom program. He was interested, excited, motivated, and participating. It was a joy to share a topic that he could connect to. The icing on the cake was when he came up to me at the end of the program and said “Thank you.” It was so heartfelt and within that moment is what makes being an environmental educator such a rewarding experience.

With funding through the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Steelhead Report Card program, CCSE delivered the program to 25 local classrooms of all grade levels. We served over 750 young students and with their help, released approximately 1500 small trout into our local freshwater lakes. Our program was only successful due to the wonderful volunteers who helped throughout the program including community individuals, members from the Santa Lucia Fly Fishers Club, San Luis Obispo County Parks’ D.E.E.R. program, and the Watershed Stewards Program.

One middle school classroom will remember a fish named “Speedy.” One particular student was in charge of the aquarium and caring for the fish in his science tech class. He took his job very seriously and gave this particular fish its name. In a tank of 40 plus fish, he could single out Speedy. On the field trip, a small group of students gathered around Speedy as they released him into his new home. So now we can happily add Speedy to the list: Nemo, Dory, and Speedy.