Salmon go to school

Students get hands-on conservation lesson

Jordan Beck | Daily Press Gladstone Junior High School sixth-graders Miranda Barteld, left, and Alex Eilola clean the fish tank their class is using to raise salmon as part of a program called “Salmon in the Classroom” Tuesday. The salmon raised as part of the program will be released into the Escanaba River on May 5.

GLADSTONE — Over the past several months, sixth-graders at the Gladstone Junior High School have been taking part in a program called “Salmon In the Classroom” (SIC). Students have been raising salmon, which they will release in the Escanaba River in early May.

Andrew Doutree, a sixth-grade science teacher at the Gladstone Junior High School, said the program has been running for seven years at Gladstone.

Since the SIC program was introduced, students elsewhere in the U.P. have had a chance to take part in it, as well.

“There’s actually multiple schools that do this program,” Doutree said. Participating school districts include Escanaba and Rapid River.

The goals of the SIC program are to teach students about the local ecosystem and food web, the importance of conservation, and the effects individuals can have on the natural world.

“I want them to understand the human impact that they have,” Doutree said.

The SIC program is made possible by support from Trout Unlimited and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Doutree said. Trout Unlimited provides funding and supplies for the SIC program, while the DNR provides the eggs used in the program.

Doutree noted his students are responsible for raising the fish and maintaining the tank they live in.

“I think they learn more by doing it themselves, hands-on,” he said.

Miranda Barteld, one of the sixth-grade students involved with the SIC program, said one of her class’ responsibilities is testing the water in the tank.

“We’re all testing the water quality with the ammonia and pH and nitrate and nitrite,” she said. Students are also responsible for cleaning out waste from the tank and feeding the fish.

In November, this year’s SIC program started when the DNR supplied the Gladstone Junior High School with about 150 salmon eggs. After they hatched in late December, several of the fish died off; however, things have stabilized since then.

“We haven’t had very many fish die lately,” Barteld said. Currently, Gladstone sixth-graders are taking care of about 128 salmon.

In addition to the hands-on experience the SIC program gives students, Doutree said the curriculum for the program includes supplemental instruction. Some of the subjects addressed in the supplemental instruction include salmon anatomy and the history of the species in the Great Lakes region.

On the latter subject, Doutree said salmon were brought to the Great Lakes in the hope of minimizing the impact of an invasive species.

“They brought them here because we had an alewife problem,” he said.

Gladstone sixth-grader Alex Eilola said he has learned a great deal about the anatomy of salmon while taking part in the SIC program.

“There’s a lot of complicated parts to the fish,” he said.

He also said he has learned about how to take care of fish.

“Having fish and caring for them is hard,” he said.

This year’s SIC program will culminate with the release of the salmon raised by students next month.

“We’re going to release them at Pioneer Trail Park,” Doutree said. The salmon will be released into the Escanaba River on Friday, May 5. After the salmon are released, students will take part in educational activities set up by Trout Unlimited in the park; later that day, they will tour the DNR’s Thompson State Fish Hatchery in Schoolcraft County.

Doutree voiced his appreciation for the groups that have support the program.

“I do want to thank the DNR and Trout Unlimited for providing this opportunity for Gladstone schools,” he said.