Schools around Vermont are taking class pets one step further by raising the state fish, Brook Trout, in their classrooms. Through the Trout in the Classroom (TIC) program, students from St. Albans to Rutland are partaking in a science project that brings activism, art, conservation and mathematics to life.
“It’s a great program,” said Bob Wible, the central Vermont TIC coordinator. “All I see is happy teachers and happy students.”
Wible has led the Central Vermont chapter of the Trout Unlimited organized project for the past five years. Although the program has existed nationally for about 25 years, it entered the Green Mountain State in 2014.
TIC helps schools obtain 55-gallon tanks, fish food and about 100 state-donated trout eggs each. While the tanks run about $1,100, program funding is often covered by state and local organizations, Wible said. TIC also includes regional advisors who support teachers in creating a hands-on experience for students from hatchery to classroom to stream.
“We don’t tell the teachers how to use these [fish] in their educational programs,” Wible said. Instead, educators use the program in conjunction with their unique curricula.
Indeed he’s seen students from Kindergarten to 12th grade raise the fish as part of their art class for sketching models, in science for tracking water quality or studying fish biology and using mathematics to measure a hatching timeline.
This year several classes are adding a civic engagement component to their TIC lessons by writing Gov. Phil Scott in response to a proposal that would see the Salisbury Fish Culture Station — a large broodstock station– closed. Such action would effectively halt the TIC program statewide as it would render trout eggs largely unobtainable, Wible said.
At Milton Middle School (MMS) seventh and eighth graders have participated in TIC for the past three years. MMS teacher Meagan Beley uses the fish as a tool for lessons on climate change, healthy streams and biology.
“We continue to do it because, first of all, the kids are really engaged in it,” she said. “Second of all, because it’s a really great way to see life happen.”
The program runs from fall to spring with a statewide new-teacher training session in October and tanks delivered to classrooms by December. The Department of Fish and Wildlife sends fish eggs to schools in early January. From there, classes monitor water temperature –around 48-52 degrees Fahrenheit– and wait about two to three weeks for the Alevin –or immature fish– to hatch.
The Alevin feed on egg sacks for another month. Afterwards, students feed the fish about three times each day until the end of May, when the trout are ready for introduction into local streams, Wible said.
A lot of classes make a day of the release, he added. The children will split into groups and look at local flora, birds and examine water ecology. Wible, a retired IBM engineer, even gets to do a little teaching at some release events.
“I always pose the question of what student is going to come here and feed these fish everyday once we throw them in the stream,” he said, adding he usually gets numerous eager volunteers. But the joke segues into a conversation about brook trout’s diet and giving kids a taste of the food chain.
While MMS doesn’t have TIC personnel attend their release, Beley and her students do make a field trip to Brown’s River in late May or early June. Her students present research on various parts of the waterway and bid their fish farewell.
Beley’s hope is that through participation in TIC, her students become more interested in their surroundings.
“The big thing is that these students are learning about: clean water; conservation [and] what affects it; what these fish need; [and] how fish are indicators of water conditions,” Wible said, adding there is no other benefit to the state; the program’s goal isn’t to increase brook trout population.
“I always wish I had this when I was a kid,” he said. “It’s a great way for kids to make sense of what they’re doing in school to Mother Nature, the outside world of the streams.”