Roxbury students are hooked on Trout in the Classroom

Environmental education program teaches understanding of ecosystems

By Julia Green

Sue Hall had never had a fish tank in her life until six months ago. Since then, she has been gaining expertise on raising trout.

Hall is the kindergarten teacher responsible for bringing the Trout in the Classroom
with it. “I’d never had a fish tank in my life. I was very nervous. We started the year with monarch caterpillars, and they all died. I didn’t want that to happen [with the trout]. I was so worried that the same thing would happen and we’d have tank full of dead fish. But now we’re ecstatic.”

A parent, Jackie Curry, helped Hall set up the tank and traveled to Peabody’s Pets Feed and Supply in Fleischmanns to get supplies. “She really has been my lifesaver in keeping those fish alive,” Hall said. “And Peabody’s sold us all the equipment at cost – they didn’t make any profit off it.”

There are currently about 50 fry, or recently-hatched fish, in the tank. “We started with about 100 eggs; we’ll lose a few more,” Hall said. “In the beginning, the kids weren’t that excited – the eggs were in a hatching basket, but they weren’t doing anything. As they grew, the interest grew.”

Related activities

The students have done a variety of trout-related activities, including keeping trout journals, talking about the life cycle, and painting pictures, and Hall has incorporated the trout into her lesson plans whenever possible.

“There is a new language arts program this year that is very scripted,” she said. “But as I find things that fit or work in relation to the trout, I do them. It’s hit-and-miss. Having Rochelle come in, this has definitely sparked their interest.”

Gandour visited Roxbury on December 6 to present a lesson on trout anatomy and the life cycle of trout to students in Sue Hall and Carol Meckes’ kindergarten classes. She led both classes in watercolor anatomy lessons and a joint life cycle lesson with both classes.
“Science is one of the things that gets pushed aside in favor of math and reading, but you can do math and reading with the trout, too,” said Gandour. “It’s a science project, but it also incorporates literacy, math, art – it’s very interdisciplinary. It’s applicable to all levels in different ways. The teachers who do this are amazing, without exception.”

The kindergarten students aren’t the only ones excited about the project. Third-grade students at Roxbury who are “bus buddies” with the kindergarten students always want to see the trout.

“The kindergarten kids could probably teach them a thing or two about trout now,” Hall said. “And I’ve had parents come in, to open house and parent-teacher conferences, who have said, ‘I have to see these trout’ because the kids have talked about them.”

The culminating event for Hall’s and Meckes’ classes will take place in the spring, when students will release the fingerling trout, which should be two to three inches long by that point, into a stream. “We could certainly release them in the spring out back [behind the school], but I’m hoping to have an end-of-year picnic. We have a campsite here in Roxbury at Slauson’s – I would like to release them there if the water is high enough. Jackie [Curry] suggested that we take the train up to Halcottsville Pond, part of the East Branch of the Delaware River, and release them there. We have some options.”

As well as releasing the trout, the students will participate in a trout quilt, creating 25 squares and sending them to 25 other participating schools, receiving one back from each school.

Nearby schools

In addition to Roxbury, TIC programs are in place at several area schools, including Margaretville, Andes, South Kortright, Stamford, and Phoenicia Elementary School. There are roughly 2,000 programs nationwide and approximately 200 classrooms that participate statewide, concentrated in New York City and the city’s watershed.

The program began in New York in 1997 with a few classes in New York City and a few classes in the Catskills, and students from the city would travel to the Catskills to release the trout. It came to New York from California, where it began in the mid-1980s.
Hall has been teaching kindergarten at Roxbury for nine years, and said she would participate in the TIC program again.

“Absolutely, without question, I will do it again next year,” she said. Already having the supplies and the knowledge, recreating the program won’t be as challenging as the first time around, when she had zero experience with fish tanks.

“My goal this year was just to have some live trout. It’s been a learning process for me.”