For five years, the Cornplanter Chapter Trout Unlimited has sponsored Trout in the Classroom programs in Warren County.
In the program, brook trout are raised in tanks in classrooms all over Warren County School District from eggs to about four inches and released in area streams.
The release is more about getting the kids and the fish to the trouts' natural habitat, not about infusing hundreds of fish into waterways for anglers to catch.
Fifth-graders at Youngsville Elementary School (from left) Sara Rowland, Chloe McLaughlin, and Derykk Rougeux, observe the brook trout in the Trout in the Classroom tank in Janet Mack’s class.
"We emphasize with the teachers that this is not a stocking program," TU member and past president Tom Buser said. "The purpose is exposing children to the life cycles of brook trout and why they are so important to our environment. They are an indicator species - if brook trout are present, the water quality is pretty good."
Because the fish require a very specific set of conditions, there is some expensive equipment involved with Trout in the Classroom (TIC).
"Overall startup costs are now approaching $1,250 per classroom, and as we are finding out, replacement equipment is even more expensive than buying it originally," Buser said. "The most critical equipment is the 'Chiller' unit, which is calibrated to maintain water temperatures to plus or minus 2 degrees, essential when raising extremely delicate brook trout fry. The chiller unit alone costs in the range of $600."
For the first few years of the program, the Cornplanter Chapter footed the bills. As costs and the number of classrooms have continued to go up, the group has sought and received generous sponsorship. "We decided to approach some local business and they stepped up to help us out with this excellent program," Chapter President Jim Lawson said.
The members believe there are many reasons to continue with TIC.
"The program is an excellent way to expose the students to how delicate the environmental system can be and the impact that humans can have, both positive and negative, on our watershed and the connected ecosystem," Lawson said. "Each student will have some environment issue arise at some point in their lives whether they are fishing people or not. Hopefully they will remember the Trout in the Classroom program and the impact one change can make. "
There are life lessons to be learned from trout.
Each class starts with about 500 brook trout eggs in October. Over the course of the school year, some of the fish hatch and grow to a size of about four inches. The mortality rates of the fish in the tanks is much lower than those facing the predators in the wild.
"Typically in our five years, we have had 150 or more trout develop to this stage, which is very good," Buser said. "By this time there will be big ones, small ones, aggressive and passive ones, and other individual traits displayed. One of the events the kids love is when cannibalism occurs: this gives the teachers the opportunity to talk about life lessons - there's always someone out there bigger, stronger, faster than you are.
There are four classrooms in the Warren County Trout in the Classroom program this year.
Butch MacQueen at the Learning Enrichment Center and John Fedak at Warren Area High School have each been participating for five years; Janet Mack is in her fourth year of TIC at Youngsville Elementary Middle School; and at Eisenhower High School, Kendra Darr and Olivia Zapel are in their second year of the program.
"Our chapter has already committed to three more TIC classes in the fall of 2011: Beaty Middle School, Susan Howe; Tidioute Charter School, David Manning, elementary classes; Tidioute Charter School, Andrew Laughaman, upper classes," Buser said.
"The Chapter is really proud of this program as it continues to grow and is very successful," Lawson said.
The program carries beyond the classroom.
"I believe this program not only reaches the students and teachers involved, but also their parents and relatives as they tell them about the program during the school year," Lawson said. "Sharing this with their families makes more people in the community aware of the importance of protecting the watershed."
"When we started this program five years ago, Warren County had two of the original seven TIC setups in the state," Buser said. "Since then it has grown exponentially - to 167 classes statewide in the 2010-2011 school year."
"The Northwest Region of Trout Unlimited, of which the Cornplanter Chapter is a member, is the only region in the state in which all eight TU chapters participate in the TIC program," he said. "The Northwest Region also has more TIC classes than any other region of the state - amazing when you consider the number of schools and teachers available in areas around Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Harrisburg."
"We have reached literally hundreds of kids with the message of stream preservation and conservation, as well as introducing them to the life cycle of the most beautiful fish that swim in Pennsylvania waters," Buser said.