Students release the trout they nurtured from egg to fry

MIDDLEBURY — Though the academic year is winding down for schools across Vermont, 23 local schools — including Mary Hogan Elementary in Middlebury — are ramping up efforts toward a new beginning, one that will give life to thousands of trout fry to be released into Vermont waters.
With support from the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department and the Vermont chapter of Trout Unlimited, a range of school classes throughout the state are nearing the end of their respective “Trout in the Classroom” projects, a several-month effort to hatch and raise healthy trout before turning them free to Vermont’s rivers and streams.
“This is a program that we’ve been thrilled to help out with for a number of years, and one that has continued to grow,” said Tom Jones, fish health biologist with Vermont Fish & Wildlife. “Aside from providing eggs to schools from selected state and federal fish culture stations and answering questions about the fish rearing process, it’s been extremely rewarding for us to see how much students enjoy this project and are able to learn about fish and aquatic environments in general.”
This collaborative, educational fish-rearing process begins in November when schools submit an application to Vermont Fish & Wildlife for a specified number of trout eggs, along with information about where the school would like to stock fish after the rearing process is complete. Fish Culture Station Supervisor Jeremy Whalen of Vermont Fish & Wildlife and other department staff play an integral role in meeting these requests and providing the eggs to area schools.
“After our request for eggs is approved and an appropriate stream is assigned for stocking, we ensure that our aquarium has a month of running time to become chemically stable and that all components are in good working order,” said Steve Flint, STEM teacher at Mary Hogan whose third-grade class participated in the program this year. “Once eggs are delivered from the hatchery, students meet each morning to conduct water tests, observe the trout to determine their stage of development and complete a blog entry about the process, which is available on our project website along with data and other information.”
Flint said that although students enjoy the entire process, there are several highlights along the way.
“The first exciting moment is when they get to see the eggs, their eyes and how small they are,” said Flint. “The next big milestone is when the trout hatch from their eggs, which is done over the course of a few days, and later when the fish complete the alevin stage and start swimming and eating in the larger part of the aquarium.”
Flint also said that while it can be difficult to maintain a stable, temporary habitat for the trout during the course of the project, those challenges become an excellent teaching tool to help students understand how seemingly small changes can have such a profound environmental impact.
“If we turn the water temperature up too quickly or too high, we may experience water chemistry spikes, find dead fish or have fish miss a developmental stage,” said Flint. “Perhaps the biggest learning experience is that, despite living in a world of instant gratification and information, nature has its own timeline and that challenges us to slow down and admire the incremental changes.”
After weeks of diligent care from Flint’s students and reaching an adequate size, the trout are released into a local waterway. For the trout reared by the third-grade class from Mary Hogan, that location is the Middlebury River — a setting that will not only allow the trout to succeed, but one that will provide an environmental connection for this group of students for years to come. Mary Hogan School’s big trout release took place in Ripton on May 20.
“The overarching goal of this project is for students to gain an understanding of the interdependence of ecosystems and the ways in which they can both positively and negatively impact their surroundings,” said Flint. “That being said, there is also something magical about watching the smiles on kids’ faces when water fills their boots, they find a stonefly and are perfectly content with being in nature.”
Over the course of the project, Flint’s students ultimately learn about a variety of other environmental topics as well including fish habitat and food, riparian zones, different types of insects and their impact on the health of a river, birds and bird habitat, and species monitoring methods used by Vermont Fish & Wildlife.
With schools from Manchester to Newport completing similar “Trout in the Classroom” projects each year, a new generation of environmentally conscious students can be found throughout Vermont, something that Flint has seen firsthand.
“Earlier this year there were a couple of students who did the project with me last year, and, unbeknownst to me, testified in Montpelier about the need for healthy rivers,” said Flint. “In a nutshell, this epitomizes my long-term goal: I want students to not only get their hands dirty and wet, but I also want them to feel a connection to nature and the watersheds.”
To learn more about the work of the Mary Hogan Elementary School third grade with respect to the “Trout in the Classroom” project, visit https://sites.google.com/site/tictroutintheclassroom/home-1.
To learn more about Vermont Fish & Wildlife’s various fisheries programs, visit www.vtfishandwildlife.com/fisheries_info.cfm.
MARY HOGAN ELEMENTARY School nurse Mary Gill stands behind third-graders Emma Saldi and Charlotte Graham as they release a trout into the Middlebury River in Ripton on May 20. The students have been learning about the life cycle of trout and the science of river ecosystems this spring as they prepared to release the fish they have been nurturing since the egg stage.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell

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