CLAREMONT – In September, River Bend Middle School started its new science program, Trout in the Classroom, with 163 fish eggs.
This week, eighth grade science teacher Stoney Turner said the class has counted between 70 and 80 baby brook trout, each a couple of inches long and growing. In March, the trout will be released in the waterways of South Mountain State Park.
The program has become the highlight of every day in school for Amber Dick, Faith Kiser and Jasmine Passmore, the trio who have taken the lead on caring for the fish.
“Just seeing how much they grow each day is fun,” Faith Kiser said.
The Hickory Chapter of Trout Unlimited donated a 55-gallon aquarium and supplies for the program. Granite Falls Brewing Company provided the charitable gift for the equipment and is a local supporter of Trout Unlimited.
Trout in the Classroom is a conservation-oriented, environmental education program for elementary, middle and high school students.
Throughout the school year, students raise trout from eggs to fry and then release them into approved cold water streams and lakes according to a Catawba County press release. The focus is fostering a conservation ethic in the students.
“We test the water to make sure everything is doing good and make sure ammonia isn’t too high or too low and make sure the temperature is right,” Faith Kiser said.
Amber Dick records all the information for the project, keeping a diary of the work they do along with observations made every day.
Jasmine Passmore helps with testing the water quality and working with the chemicals added to the water. They learned things like the importance of a coagulant in the fish tank.
“It makes all the particles come together and they sink to the bottom and the filters will filter them out to make sure it doesn’t go back into the Water,” Jasmine Passmore said. “It’s called flocculation.”
All three enjoy being outdoors already, so this opportunity allowed them to get more involved in caring for the environment. They also recognize the responsibility of their jobs. If they don’t follow up every day, they know the fish will die.
Amber Dick was already thinking about becoming a marine biologist, and after her time with the trout, there is no doubt now.
The group has avoided naming the fish, knowing the need to maintain some professional distance, but they couldn’t help get attached to one trout with a unique mark on its side.
“It has a scar on it that is shaped like a two, so we named it Two,” Faith Kiser said. “We had one we named Dory because she would swim around the tank and run into the wall and then shake her head and then run around again.”
Both fish are still alive and doing well and all three students will miss caring for the fish during the upcoming holiday break.
Turner admitted getting through the learning curve of just using a fish tank in his classroom was a challenge.
“I had to do a lot of research…and we learned things as we went,” he said.
The class changes the water once a month, vacuums the rocks once a month but keeping the ammonia down has been the hardest part of the job.
“With all the fish that are in there, the larger they get, the more they eat, the more waste they produce and that’s the cause of the ammonia issues,” Turner said.
The fish will get close to four inches long by the time the class takes them to the state park to be released in March. Brook trout can grow up to eight inches in length and weigh half a pound in their lifetime.
Turner credited River Bend Middle principal Chip Cathey and Catawba County Schools Board member Cathy Starnes for jump-starting the project. Both also are Hickory Trout Unlimited members.