Maple Street School raising trout
Fifth-grade students at Maple Street School are off to an exciting start to their Trout in the Classroom project of raising brook trout. On one snowy day in January, as the students studied water quality readings and discussed the impacts of ammonia on fish egg health, an announcement exploded through the cramped quarters.
"There's a fish! There's a fish!"
Students surged toward the tank along with teacher Suzanne Alfano and Trout in the Classroom lead facilitator Joe Mark who had joined the class for the day.
Mark peered into a small basket just below the surface of the water and confirmed that one of the class' eggs had, in fact, hatched.
Although it may be splitting hairs, Mark explained that technically what the students now had in their tank was an alevin, one of several stages the baby brook trout would go through on its way from egg to adult fish.
Not long later, another alevin appeared in the basket.
The excitement was palpable as the students took turns climbing up on a chair to get a good look as Alfano used her cell phone's flashlight to help.
All in all, it was an exciting moment for the young fish raisers.
Up to this point, their efforts had mostly been research-oriented as they learned about and prepared reports on the life cycle of trout, their habitat, and how environmental factors play a role on whether a young brook trout survives, or even thrives.
The project became real when the eggs were delivered from a Vermont Game and Fish hatchery 10 days prior.
As the fish hatch into alevins, they'll consume their attached yolk sacs for two to three weeks before reaching the "swim up phase," which is when they'll start looking for food.
To ensure that critical point doesn't happen during a school break, the school is controlling the development time by controlling the water temperatures slightly.
Critical control of all aspects of the environment is key to successfully raising the trout. There are many things that can go wrong during the process and the students and Mark discussed some of those things the day he was there.
During the discussion about ammonia, students explained that food and waste are the main causes of ammonia in the water.
Willem Vickers, who lives in Winhall and Danby, carefully dipped a test strip in the tank water and checked the results. As expected, the ammonia test came back at "zero" because there had been no food placed in the tank and eggs don't produce waste, Vickers explained.
Mark added to Vickers' explanation that the reason the water would have to be exchanged regularly was to remove the ammonia since this artificial setting wouldn't clean the water naturally as would happen in a river setting.
Next to Vickers, Nora McTeigue of Winhall was also testing the water, checking for hardness, salinity, nitrates and nitrites, the effects of which she patiently explained.
Another student, Tor Borgia of Winhall, was volunteered to explain why the tank was insulated, which he said was because of the need to keep the water temperature carefully controlled below what room temperature. Borgia said the tanks also used an air pump, chiller and habitat features to help the fish survive once they hatched.
Later, as class time ran out and the students shuffled off to their next classes, Mark pointed out that while the kids were excited about their fish eggs hatching, they were learning a lot of science and making a connection to the natural world that would stick with them long after they left fifth-grade.
"You create this connection between the kids and these living things they're taking care of," Mark said.
The Trout Unlimited program has proven successful throughout the state although it started in 2012 in five schools in this area.
This year, there will be 98 schools across the state including 28 in the southwestern part of Vermont.
Editor's note: The Journal plans to document the Maple Street School fish. Unless something goes wrong, the fish should be released in June.
Contact Darren Marcy at firstname.lastname@example.org or by cell at 802-681-6534.
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