Trout in the Classroom? Students Learn Some Fishy Water Lessons

A New Hampshire professional uses Trout in the Classroom to teach kids about the importance of a quality environment.
Trout in the Classroom? Students Learn Some Fishy Water Lessons
Eric Swope (green shirt and waders) helps students release trout as part of the Trout in the Classroom program.

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Last May, students from Keene Montessori School said bon voyage to dozens of friends. We’re not talking classmates — the goodbyes were for trout fingerlings the children had raised from tiny eggs.

One by one, the students lined up to dump a cup of water containing a trout into Beaver Brook. Helping was Eric Swope, industrial pretreatment coordinator at the Keene (New Hampshire) Wastewater Treatment Plant. Swope considers it part of his job to teach school children the value of clean water.

Start them young

“I feel it’s important that students learn from a young age that what gets poured down the drain will eventually end up in streams and the water supply,” says Swope. “Everyone is responsible for water quality.”

During the four-month program, the students learn about the life cycle of trout while caring for the fish until they are large enough to release. In February, the school received a cooler with 100 eggs from New Hampshire Fish & Game. The students sorted through the eggs and moved the viable ones into a classroom aquarium. Of those, 40 survived — a solid success rate, according to Swope, who has been involved with the Trout in the Classroom program since 2006.

Between the arrival of the eggs and the release of the fingerlings, the students learned many lessons. That is Swope’s favorite aspect of the program, which began with one school and has expanded to six. “It gives us the opportunity to talk about water-quality issues and pollution,” Swope says. The kids start to realize the storm drains in the street are directly tied to the brook.

“I do lessons in protecting our streams and show the students the amount of wildlife that relies on clean water. We also discuss aquatic invasive species and the threat they pose to a watershed.”

Daily care

Along with the book lessons, the children do plenty of hands-on work as they head toward the release date. They share tasks that include testing the water, monitoring temperature and feeding the trout. Swope sees the program’s benefits yearly.

“I enjoy seeing students who love the outdoors get excited about coming to school,” he says. “Not every topic in school appeals to every child. This project captures some students’ interests and it helps motivate a handful of kids. That alone is worth doing it.”

Swope realizes today’s students will become tomorrow’s leaders. This was the first year in which he has worked with preschool students. He says no age is too young to learn about each person’s impact on the environment. “Teaching them about conservation is critical to me. First and foremost, I want them to understand that just because we have something in our environment now, that does not mean we always will unless today’s and future generations take care of it.”

Essential partnerships

Although New Hampshire Fish & Game supplied the fish eggs, a partnership with the Monadnock Chapter of Trout Unlimited helps supply the program equipment.

“We kicked off the program with a watershed grant, and New Hampshire Fish & Game and volunteers from Trout Unlimited have been instrumental in keeping it afloat,” he says.

“City leaders in Keene have been behind us every step of the way. To make it a success, you need funding first, then a solid connection to the education system, and most importantly, enthusiastic volunteers to make it go.”

Although Swope is deeply involved in community outreach, he says the students’ enthusiasm for Trout in the Classroom makes it the most fulfilling: “When these kids realize that the water they drink and what goes down the drain is directly connected to the health of the environment, it’s almost like you see a lightbulb come on. Just seeing the connection the kids form with those little trout is a fun way to interact with the community and to get kids to understand the importance of stewardship.”


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