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Teach and Release

As any educator knows, our profession offers unexpected opportunities that at first may not seem all that appealing.  Ironically, though, it’s often these very opportunities that leave the most lasting impressions.   My co-worker and I would like to share an experience that not only encapsulated the mission of our school, Fishburn Park Focus for Environmental Science, but also reaffirmed our teaching philosophies.

Over the summer, our principal, Judy Lackey, called me and Kit to ask if we would like to participate in a unique program, Trout in the Classroom, which encourages students to become stewards of Brook Trout.  Each year, Trout Unlimited graciously loans fifty gallon tanks and all related equipment to a number of diverse schools.  A tank is fully equipped to create a habitat that closely resembles one in which the trout will thrive.  In order to sustain such an environment, a lot more is involved than meets the eye.  Water is changed every two to three weeks; Ph levels are consistently checked; and, in the beginning, eggs that do not survive are pulled out to prevent any contamination.  Knowing all that would be involved in the program, Kit (an avid camper) and I (a not so avid camper) decided to accept the trout challenge. 

When our first trout arrived in the fall, Dick Vipperman (aka the Trout Squad) was inundated with our questions and concerns.  His passion for the program proved to be extremely beneficial.  Over the course of the project, students were encouraged to become active participants in raising the trout, with Kit and I facilitating maintenance of the tank.  As the project progressed, the children were given the opportunity to check Ph levels and measure the trout to chart their growth.  Perfect examples of learning by doing, this pattern of observation and study empowered the students.  They were able to care for the trout while unknowingly absorbing Standards of Learning.  For me and Kit, teaching in this hands-on manner was a refreshing reminder of why we sought out the teaching profession in the first place.  As teachers, we aim to learn and grow with our students and to understand the nurturing that each student requires.  This program allowed us to do just that.

The trout lifecycle is observed in one year.  As educators we are fortunate to witness a small part of a child’s life, realizing that every moment is an opportunity to learn and grow.  At the end of the Trout in the Classroom program, all of our hard work paid off as we watched the children release an abundance of trout into a protected stream near the Peaks of Otter.  The release was a proud and surreal experience for everyone involved.  Kit and I share just one year with our second graders, and it is always bittersweet to watch them move on to third grade.  For that brief moment during the release, the students shared in that feeling as they released the trout into their natural habitat and watched them swim off toward the future.

Kit and I would like to thank Trout Unlimited, our mentor Dick Vipperman, and on-call trout lover, Chris O’Neill, for their ongoing support.

Written by Ashley Ring and Kit Richards
Fishburn Park Elementary
Roanoke, VA