My last post was about a cold but wonderful Lincoln Community School Release Day and about the fabulous book award that Ludlow Elementary School's third graders won. Since then, I've had the opportunity to participate in three more southwest Vermont Release Days (actually, by the time this gets published, it will be five additional schools, but more about that later). These schools were, in order, Middletown Springs Elementary School on Tuesday, Manchester Elementary and Middle School on Wednesday, and Poultney Elementary School on Friday. They were each different but all great.
Middletown Springs Elementary School
Middletown Springs released their fish on Tuesday, a day that started grey but became quite beautiful well before midday.
Teacher Jenn Tifft had recruited four volunteers: Hilary Solomon, Megan Muller, and Haley Macomber (all from the Poultney-Mettowee Natural Resources Conservation District), and me.
At 9:00, we walked from MSES to a stretch of the upper Poultney River quite near the school. Jenn divided the class in half for our first activities. Hilary and Megan supervised students as they tested a small tributary that flows into the Poultney near our release site. Haley and I took the other group to a spot on the river to talk about the characteristics of the stream: the canopy and the riparian zone more generally, substrate embeddedness, woody debris and other in-stream structure, undercut banks, evidence of flooding and erosion, etc. Then, using a tennis ball, tape measure, and stopwatch, the students measured the speed of the river.
After 45 minutes, we took a snack break at the end of which Hilary and I switched groups and repeated our exercises, only this time, Hilary had the students test the water of the main stem. While most results suggested that the chemistry of the tributary and the main stem were very similar, the phosphate level of the tributary was significantly higher than that of the main stem. Hilary led a discussion focussed on the question, "Why might that be?"
Our last activity before lunch was to play the energetic but also very educational "Macro Mayhem" game, which Hilary led. (Click the Macro Mayhem link above to get instructions on how to organize the game.) Here is a brief video of the MSES Macro Mayhem episode.
After a cafeteria/gym lunch of chicken and beef tacos, we returned to the stream to collect and classify macroinvertebrates. We found many of the good ones!
Here are photos from the MSES Release Day.
The last activity before the release was special. Each 6th grader organized the macros he/she had collected and met with one of the younger classes of students, K though 5th grade. They showed the students the macros they'd found and told them about them and their significance. Finally, with the whole school assembled on the stream bank, each 6th grader got approximately 11 trout, returned to the younger students they'd instructed about macros, and released their fish. A great day!
Manchester Elementary and Middle School
Wednesday, Manchester Elementary and Middle School's Release Day, was perfect from the start and took place at an altogether beautiful piece of property on the upper Mettawee River.
I arrived at the school at 11:00 to help the students net and count their fish. Becki Trudell, program director at the American Museum of Fly Fishing, came to join the fun. Once the school bus delivered students and faculty to the stream, students, supervised by the many volunteers who had also come along, broke into small groups to collect and classify macroinvertebrates. Again, a successful activity! Along with the bugs, students also found small trout as well as eggs, both viable and dead. We assume the seemingly viable eggs must have been those of a rainbow trout.
After the macros activity, each group of students received a container of six or seven trout, which they took to the special spot they'd chosen to release their fish. When, up and down the river, the various assemblies of budding ichthyologists let out a whoop, we knew that another half dozen brookies were now in their new homes.
We ended circled up on the lawn for thank-you's and final reflections. I took that opportunity to ask the students whether they had enjoyed these activities. All had. Then I asked whether someday they'd like to do this kind of work for a living and get paid for it. A great many said they'd love to do that. I urged them to study hard, go to college, and pursue that passion.
Poultney Elementary School
At 8:30, Keith Harrington, Poultney Elementary School fourth grade teacher, and his students began walking to the release site while two of Keith's students and their mothers netted and counted the PES fish. There were 75 of them--a nice number--which they put in an aerated cooler. Then we transported the trout to the Poultney River at a point where it wraps around the west side of the Green Mountain College campus.
After scoping out the river with Beth Miller, education and outreach specialist with Poultney-Mettowee Natural Resources Conservation District (P-MNRCD), we picked the area where the students would release their trout, and Beth helped me carry the cooler to that spot. We placed it in the shade.
Keith assigned his students to four groups of five or six students each that then rotated through stations spread up and down the river to participate in 45 minute learning activities.
At one station, Green Mountain College biology Professor Natalie Coe taught students how to test river water, including for chemical compounds they didn't test for in their classroom. Beth Miller introduced students to the physical characteristics of the stream and its surrounding riparian habitat. Megan Muller, recent GMC graduate and intern with P-MNRCD, used a "stream table" to demonstrate to students how rainwater moves through a watershed and how pollution--cocoa powder in Megan's simulation--would be distributed if it were introduced into the system. Haley Macomber, UVM senior and summer intern with P-MNRCD, helped me explain the procceses of collecting and classifying macroinvertebrates.
PES's release occurred in the middle of the day, following remarks by Keith Harrington, who also thanked the Poultney Rotary club and a generous anonymous member, who funded the start-up of the PES TIC program. Keith also presented the beautiful TIC quilt that a PES parent and grandparent assembled out of squares made by PES students and, especially, students at 25 other schools across the country. Finally, each student read a trout reflection essay that he/she had written. All together, it made for a great send-off for their 75 trout.
Here's a video of one of the PES students reading his trout reflection essay.
Joe Mark, Lead Facilitator, Vermont Trout in the Classroom
In June 2012, I retired after 40 years in higher education, having spent the last 32 years of my career as dean at Castleton. One of the first things I volunteered to do in retirement was to work with Jim Mirenda to help the Dorset School, where his kids and my Vermont grandkids attend, start a TIC program. Gradually that commitment grew into my current role, which is both demanding and highly rewarding.