by Nick Halle
It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon (yes, I know that’s not the typical idiom) to grasp that the future of conservation will depend heavily on the youth of today. Trout Unlimited’s youth education staff have been educating young people across the country on conservation and the outdoors in the hopes of instilling an appreciation for the natural world, building a foundation for America’s next generation of conservationists.
In 1997, Trout Unlimited launched the “Trout in the Classroom” (TIC) program in New York City in partnership and collaboration with educators, government agencies, and local organizations to bring environmental education to students in an urban environment. In this program, students raise trout from eggs to fry, eventually culminating in their release into suitable local waterways. This program has long been one of TU’s most successful youth education programs, but as the very name of the program suggests, it has remained confined largely to the confines of the classroom except for the final release event. Additionally, many teachers have been looking for the next step in TIC to deepen their students’ understanding of STEM subjects.
In steps a female-led high school club dubbed “Stream Team” to shake things up a bit. In 2013, six female students approached Dr. Kirk Smith at James Madison High School to start an environmental club. Dr. Smith is a scientist and member of Trout Unlimited’s Northern Virginia Chapter and the team has been developing a science-based program where students venture into the field to assess watersheds in northwestern VA. It is goal-driven, and they gather data in the hopes of finding suitable waterways for reintroduction of native Brook Trout. Naturally, they named the program TOC – Trout out of the Classroom. The program has been a tremendous success, but until now it has remained isolated to just James Madison High School.
On November 17th, Trout Unlimited signed a charter to enter into the “TIA Alliance” – a partnership with Izaak Walton League of America and the American Fisheries Society to bring the TOC program to schools across the country in what will essentially be the next step for TU’s Trout in the Classroom program. The alliance will strive ‘to promote awareness of and appreciation for water quality monitoring and fisheries management within the United States by facilitating the engagement of volunteers, specifically youth and young adults, in mission oriented, natural resource conservation activities.”
It was a true honor to be present at the signing of this alliance on behalf of TU. In the past year I’ve had the privilege of working with Dr. Smith and his students who have brought this program to life. Through this partnership with Izaak Walton League and American Fisheries Society, the dream of bringing this program to schools across the country – providing students an opportunity to engage in conservation and science work in the natural environment – is becoming a reality.
A true, deep connection to the natural world cannot be taught from a textbook. By bringing students into direct contact with the environment, I’m extremely hopeful that this connection will be felt deeply by all who are able to participate. In a world where the future of our environment is increasingly uncertain, having programs like this to inspire the next generation of conservationists will prove invaluable to protecting our nation’s precious natural resources. I’m extremely proud to be a part of this alliance, and I can’t wait to continue to our work to bring conservation to students across this beautiful country.
Nick Halle is TU’s Volunteer Operations Coordinator and is based out of the National Office in Arlington, VA.