Trout in the Classroom

At first, many students were unaware that fish even ate each other, but now they know that and much more. Thanks to a “Trout in the Classroom” Project seventh graders at Grayling Middle School (GMS) became much more knowledgeable about the life cycles of brown trout. Along the way they also learned how much effort goes into taking care of the young fish. It gave them a better appreciation for the world famous trout stream right in their backyard. “We wanted to give students an idea of the life in the river,” explained Carrie Wilkinson, who teaches science at the school and spearheaded the project. They grown up near a great river and many had no idea about it.” The project was initiated and sponsored by the Mason-Griffith Founders Chapter of Trout Unlimited. They donated the tank and purchased the necessary equipment including a water chiller – trout fry prefer water around 50 degrees – and a UV sterilizer to kill germs. The trout were bought from the Cedarbrook Trout Farm in Harrisville. The total cost was about $1000. This year the Mason Griffith Founders Chapter is expanding the project to include two middle school classes at GMS.
Last year’s trout arrived as 500 eyed-eggs in mid January, meaning they were still eggs but with two visible eyes. They hatched into sac fry – think of a fish swimming around with a bulging belly bigger than it is – at the beginning of February. Last year’s seventh grade science class consisted of about 150 students. Groups of students took turns caring for the fish every day under the watchful eye of Wilkinson and two other science teachers, Brad Wagner and Joell Gabriel. “The students were totally invested in the project,” Wilkinson added. “You could see a real ownership grow in them as the project went on.” The students fed the fish three times a day, tested the PH, cleaned the tank and kept a daily log of activities. Wilkinson and the other teachers took over on weekends and Holidays. In short course, the classes became very protective of the fish, mourning the death of each fry. When an ammonia spike in the water, due to excessive waste, killed 30 in one day, there was great anxiety. Fortunately, the problem was resolved and nearly 400 of the trout were released into The Au Sable on April 30th at the Grayling Fish Hatchery. Each student was allowed to put one trout into the river. “These fish were very well cared for by the students,” said Steve Sendek, Senior Fisheries Biologist for the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) and member of the Mason Griffith Board of Directors. Sendek gave a short presentation to the students after they released the young trout.
The students are excited about doing it again this year. They enjoyed watching the fish grow and go through all the life stages. During a semester of observing trout going from eggs to fingerlings they came to understand why fish need shelter to survive from predators. The experience has changed the way they view the Au Sable. “It gives you an open mind about river habitat,” said Laura Simpson. The next generation will arrive as eyed-eggs this January with another release scheduled for April.
The Chapter originally became involved with the Trout in the Classroom projects by helping to sponsor one in the Mio School district in conjunction with the Mio Lions Club. Rick Doody of the Lion’s Club contacted us and wanted to get something started in the Mio schools. They ’ve had a project in the Mio Middle School for two years now and they too, are expanding to two classes this year - one in the middle school and one in the high school. The Lions Club also takes the kids out on the river for fly fishing instructions and aquatic bug sampling. Anyone wanting more information about the Mio Lions Club or their projects can contact Rick Doody at 989-348-7866 or via email at patrickdoo@aol.com

Note: A version of this story appeared in the Crawford County Avalanche last April.