WILLIAMSTOWN - Something fishy is happening at some area schools, and students couldn't be happier.
Thanks to an $8,000 grant from DuPont Washington Works, the Blennerhassett Chapter of Trout Unlimited expanded its Trout in the Classroom program this year to five area schools.
Williamstown Elementary School has participated in the program since 2008, with students hatching and caring for trout during the school year and later releasing the fish into the wild.
Williamstown Elementary School sixth-graders Ginger Hart, left, Haley Sutton, center, and Hailey Bradley study developing brown trout Wednesday at the school as part of Trout Unlimited’s Trout in the Classroom program. (Photo by Michael Erb)
Mike Merrifield, president of the Blennerhassett chapter, said the group purchased additional fish eggs, tanks and equipment for Mineral Wells Elementary, Greenmont Elementary, Harmar Elementary in Marietta and Valley High School in Wetzel County, W.Va.
"We're very thankful for DuPont's help," Merrifield said. "It's a standard aquarium setup. It takes a special filter and it takes a chiller, as the trout need cold water. We also use covers to keep the tanks dark. The students have the responsibility of mothering those trout as they hatch and grow. They clean the tanks and feed them."
Diana Leo, a sixth-grade teacher at Williamstown Elementary, incorporates the fish into her weekly lessons with a "Fishy Friday" when students take measurements of the hatching fish, test the water, write observations and chart the growth of the trout.
The data and observations are posted in the third-floor hallway at Williamstown Elementary alongside the fish tank so all students at the school can watch their growth.
This year the students are raising more than 100 brown trout. The eggs were brought to the school about two weeks ago and last week had hatched and reached an alevin stage where the fish look more like tadpoles with egg sacks attached to their almost translucent bodies.
The class also can use a digital microscope called Zoomy to take pictures and video of the developing trout. Leo used her classroom's digital white board to show a short video of the developing fish and to point out details of the alevin's body structure.
"They can see the heart pumping, the arteries, this great big eye," she said. "They document any changes and observations. They graph the temperature of the tank, the ammonia levels, the PH balance.
"Any way we can use these in the classroom, we do," she said.
In April, students will release the trout into the Potomac River at Camp Echo in Grant County, W.Va. Leo said the class receives permission from the state for the release.
"It's a conservation lesson," Merrifield said. "We will pick a stream we feel can support the trout year round. For each of the new schools, we're in the process of working out where that will be. Williamstown has been doing this for several years now at Camp Echo."
Trout in the Classroom offers students a unique chance to learn a variety of lessons, from math and science to the environment and nature, Leo said.
"Students think objectively and critically about real world issues which affect an important part of their heritage," she said. "They're taking an active role in their own futures and care about protecting our resources. Important stuff."