Dorset School releases trout

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DORSET — After months of raising brook trout in an aquatic tank inside the classroom, fifth-grade students at The Dorset School said so long to their fledgling fish and placed them gently into the Mettawee River.

"I just want to stay here and explore all day," said an enraptured Dorset School fifth-grader. The student could have been speaking for many of her fellow fifth-graders on The Dorset School Trout in the Classroom release day Friday, May 31.

The Trout in the Classroom project began last December when the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife granted the school permission to accept 100 brook trout eggs to be hatched, nurtured and ultimately released into the Mettawee.

The eggs were placed in the aquatic tank in January and the students immediately became caretakers and scientists, feeding, cleaning, monitoring water conditions and tracking the progress of their tiny ones daily.

As the brook trout moved through their life cycle from eggs to alevins to fry to fingerlings the goal for the students was to keep them alive. In the wild, only 2 percent to 3 percent of trout eggs survive. In a controlled environment, like the TDS fish tank, the average can be closer to 25 percent to 30 percent. This year, under the watchful eye of the fifth-graders and their teacher, Karli Love, the living trout offspring free to swim away at the end of May numbered 52, which was 52 percent.

"This is the fifth year we've raised brook trout," Love said. "And this is the highest survival rate yet. We experimented with raising water temperatures in the tank a little early to get the trout to start eating quicker and get valuable nutrition. That may explain the higher percentage."

While the fish are up on the marquee, the students are the primary beneficiaries of Trout in the Classroom.

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"There is so much learning in one little program," Love said. "It exposes the kids to real life experience with math, science and research. It also helps with critical thinking skills, collaboration and developing a sense of responsibility."

After nearly five months in the classroom, release day is the finale. After a short ride to the Mettawee River near Lower Hollow Road, the students move on to their lessons and fun. They start with a scavenger hunt, becoming real life explorers searching for signs of animals, invasive plant species, seeds floating in air, things found under rocks, and more.

They are reminded that as scientists they must respect the environment by leaving no trace, or in this case, not stepping on plants and ferns.

Prior to the trout release, the students are separated into three groups that cycle through three stations. One is on the river bank where they search for insects and signs of life on the water's edge. Another is a writing spot where they create poetry and art that reflects their experience with the trout. The final location is a science station where they conduct quick experiments to verify that the water conditions of the Mettawee are suitable for the trout raised in a fish tank.

As the kids move through each station, you hear excitement in their voices with each discovery. "Look at these stone fly larvae I found under a rock in the river!"

There was also a Socratic discussion on the question, "Is a snail an aquatic macro-invertebrate?" (The ultimate answer was yes.)

Finally it was time to say farewell to the trout. The students lined up to receive containers filled with one or two fry and then walked to the river where they were carefully poured into the water.

As the session came to an end, a few students broke into a spontaneous song, singing good-bye to their old friends.


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