Maryland Trout Unlimited Trout in the Classroom Leaps into Third Year
By Tom Gamper
MDTU Youth Education Coordinator
Trout in the Classroom (TIC) is a hands-on environmental program in which students raise Kamloops rainbow trout from eggs to fingerling, manage chilled tank water quality, engage in stream habitat study, learn to appreciate water resources, develop a conservation ethic, and are taught to understand ecosystem connectivity. Since our first year of involvement in TIC, the program has grown from four schools to fourteen in the Baltimore Region. In the same period, the statewide participation has expanded from forty to over sixty schools and environmental centers. This remarkable growth can be attributed to the program’s pre-developed curriculum with interdisciplinary components that can be easily and quickly introduced into a school’s academic offerings. Also contributing to this growth is Maryland’s systemic environmental literacy requirements.
Numerous partnerships have emerged as a result of this programmatic success. Locally, MDTU has become a strategic partner with the Carnegie Institution for Science, the National Aquarium, Bluewater Baltimore, and Earth Force. Joining us for the first time this year is the Parks and People Foundation, which sponsored its inaugural program at Franklin Square Elementary Middle School as part of their Children and Nature outreach directed by Mary Hardcastle, who is now doing the same advocacy on behalf of Baltimore City Recreation and Parks. Other members of the Baltimore Area group include McDonogh School, Lutherville Lab School, Woodlawn Middle School, Sudbrook Magnet Middle School, Boys’ Latin School, Gilman School, Roland Park Public School, Hampden Elementary Middle School, Walter P. Carter Elementary Middle School, Hamilton Elementary Middle School, Armistead Gardens Elementary Middle School, Bel Air High School and Broadneck High School. We also added Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center to this roster – our first local environmental center. On the state level, TIC continues to receive indispensable assistance from the Department of Natural Resources. Marshall Brown at the Albert Powell State Hatchery donates over 9,000 trout embryos to the program, and Rich Bohn and Mark Staley in Freshwater Fisheries coordinate aqua-culture and stocking permits for the raising and release of the fingerling. This teamwork, embodied in the program, is due to the outstanding organizational skills of our state TIC liaisons, Jim Greene and Chuck Dinkel of the Potomac Patuxent Chapter. In the past eleven years, this duo has developed a “how to manual” for raising trout in Maryland classrooms and compiled an extensive list of trouble shooting quick responses for addressing a wide array of problems. They have also assembled a seven-region “pony express” system for the annual delivery of the eggs in early January. One “point person” leaves the State Hatchery with all the eggs for the schools in a given region and is met subsequently by others who will deliver the eggs to their final destination. Our local group was comprised of Tom Rupp, Sean Beattie, Mollie Simpkins, Liz Smith, David Budniakiewicz, Jim Gracie, Larry Maurer, and myself, Tom Gamper. Our efforts are also supported on the national level by Rochelle Gandour, Coordinator of Youth Education for National Trout Unlimited. We were lucky enough to have her visit from Seattle this Spring, and she is always “on-call” to answer technical questions as she has degrees in Chemistry and Environmental Science.
With such a large number of participants, problems do arise. Chillers can cease operating (we have spares and teachers are asked to keep de-chlorinated ice ready for such a crisis). Tanks can and do become toxic because of nitrogen cycle imbalance, because of the breakdown of other components like the filter or aerator, or because of mistaken maintenance practices like dipping a dirty sponge in the tank. A chiller can also develop a pinhole coil leak, resulting in its refrigerant contaminating the tank. That happened this year and due to some very good detective work by Chuck Dinkel, we discovered that the water-soluble active agent developed by DuPont was tested in laboratories to discover its levels of toxicity by using rainbow trout. So even when things go bad, we try to find the teachable moment; amidst these classroom crises is the realization that trout and their ecosystems are profoundly fragile and outside of these controlled micro-environments, very real macro-environmental threats are confronting our cold water resources throughout North America. TIC, then, really is a powerful way of introducing our young people to the interconnectedness of ecosystems.
The strength of TIC as a teaching tool is evident in the recognition it has received in participating schools on the state and local levels. This year, Rebecca Sanders of Crellin Elementary School in Oakland, Maryland, was one of eighteen U.S. teachers to receive a Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators. Her students have used TIC to focus on acid mine drainage and to study ecosystem management on Snowy Creek. Closer to home, Stephen Knott, a teacher at Armistead Gardens Elementary Middle School and MDTU member, was his school’s “Teacher of Year.” His classroom is a virtual Chesapeake Bay watershed in miniature – with aquariums containing cold water upstream species and those with brackish water species of the Bay itself. He also has a website and blog which chronicles the raising of their trout. Even more heartening is that both of these recognized teachers are faculty at Title 1 schools -- that is, the majority of their students come from low-income households.
But the real reward of TIC is the celebration of the eggs’ arrival each year and the subsequent release of the fingerling. MDTU volunteers have assisted in these releases by transporting the trout in aerated coolers to the release site and by setting up a fly-fishing demonstration station which complements the stream ecosystem study stations. This year 1368 fingerling were released by our local participants in Stony Run, Gwynns Falls, the lower Jones Falls, Dead Run, Herring Run, the Patuxent River and the Little Gunpowder Falls. Sometimes students are lucky enough to see an adult fish caught and released – a fun part of our volunteer effort. In this role, our fly boxes become books of knowledge on what trout eat on a seasonal basis. Last year, as I explained that one fly imitated Ephemerella Dorothea or the sulphur mayfly, I asked one of Stephen Knott’s students, who was also a “City Catch alumnus”, what the word ephemeral meant. Without missing a beat, he replied, “Short lived”. For this young student of cold water conservation, the lessons of our mission have been anything but short lived.
Preparing eggs at the hatchery
Rochelle Gandour, TU Youth Education Coordinator, Hampden EMS Principal, Dr.Judith
Thomas, and Valerie Butler, Carnegie Institution for Science
Stephen Knott tests water temperature of eggs
Students from Roland Park EMS release their fish into Stony Run