Fish out of water

DORSET - Splashing through the headwaters of the Mettawee River, 40 sixth graders from Manchester Elementary Middle School collected water samples, turned over rocks and shivered while standing in the cold stream. They were out of their school environment as a part of the Trout in the Classroom program, where school children raise trout and eventually release them into the stream.

Rachel Mark, a sixth grade teacher, said the children received their trout eggs in late 2013, right before they went on Christmas vacation.

"We got 200 brook trout eggs and a huge 75 gallon tank," she said. "We will be releasing about 55 trout. The survival rate of trout eggs in the wild is 20 percent, so we did a little better than that."

After the students arrived at the headwaters of the Mettowee River, where they would release their trout, they were given their assignment. Broken out into small groups, the children participated in a scavenger hunt and a stream study.

"We're here to celebrate ... we're here to gather information and to have some fun," Mark said.

On the scavenger hunt, activities included taking a selfie as a group, finding a fern and getting the autograph of an adult volunteer.

And then there came the kick nets. Joe Mark, Rachel's father and the trout in the classroom advisor, showed the group how to use a net to collect the different bugs, silt and leaves they were able to dislodge from the stream end. The students used this tool to help them complete a stream survey, to tell whether the stream is healthy or not. The Mettawee River headwaters are in fact healthy, Rachel Mark said.

There are four indicators of a healthy street and it is assessed by finding different bugs in the water, Melissa Rice, sixth grade teacher said.

Along with the scavenger hunt and stream survey, Joe Mark gave the students a stick to mark where they wanted to release their trout. An area of slow moving water works best, he said.

Grace Pinkus said she has enjoyed learning about the trout and the environment in which they live. She and her friends Sara Asciutto and Lucas Mori said they would miss having the trout in their classroom. They all enjoyed being out of school.

"It's fun going in the water," Asciutto said. "Even though it's freezing cold."

The students were laughing and splashing around the spots on the stream where they were collecting their stream samples. Even with the cold water and bugs, they were smiling and seemed excited to be there.

Logan Morgan enjoyed using the kick net to find the different insects and animals living in the stream.

"We've picked out some stone flys," he said, indicating to a small container holding the flies.

Another one of his classmates, Hannah Dworkin said her favorite part of the afternoon was leaving the school and getting to spend time outside.

When the scavenger hunt was all finished, the students released their trout. Finally, a special trout shaped cake was shared and the students celebrated their successful release.

Trout in the classroom has been in place all across the country for more than 20 years. The program was started by Trout Unlimited, a national organization committed to conserving, protecting and restoring North America's coldwater fisheries and their watersheds. MEMS equipment was purchased with a grant from the Orvis Corporation and a donation of the Southwestern Vermont Chapter of Trout Unlimited.


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