After spending their first two months of life in chilled tank in a Pullman classroom, dozens of adolescent steelhead will be released by Lincoln Middle School seventh-graders today during a field trip to the Boyer Park Marina.
Life sciences teacher Marla Haugen said this is the third year she has hatched steelhead in her classroom with the help of Idaho Fish and Game but it’s the first time she will be taking students on a field trip to release them. The entire program is made possible through the efforts of multiple entities, she said. Idaho Fish and Game supplied her with the eggs, collected at Dworshak Dam; Palouse Conservation District is paying for the field trip; and Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories purchased the $800 chilling unit that keeps the water cool enough for the young fish to thrive.
Steelhead are a form of rainbow trout that migrate to the ocean but spawn in freshwater. Haugen’s steelhead were little bigger than an inch long but they could eventually live to be 11 years old and grow as large as 55 pounds.
“It’s a cool program and just to get kids more involved with ecology, and climate change and everything,” Haugen said. “It’s mostly to get the kids to think about the fact that they go to the ocean, they come back then to take care of the habitats.”
Haugen said she and a group of her seventh-graders will release the fish near Boyer Park, tour a nearby dam and attend the Snake River Family Festival, which takes place around the same time as the field trip. She said not only does the project illustrate many natural processes that the children are learning about in class, but as steelhead are a species impacted by human activity, it also gets them thinking about conservation.
“With all the dams fish aren’t getting to their laying areas,” 13-year-old Abe Wheatley said. “This kind of just helps repopulate the species and we get to learn about them at the same time.”
This is far from the first living project Haugen has brought into her life sciences classroom. Terraria, tanks and enclosures are featured along every wall, holding a wide range of specimens including snapping turtles, an axolotl and a bearded dragon named Mushu. With the help of a $10,000 grant, she is currently working to build a small garden just outside her classroom. She said the garden will be constructed over the summer with the help of the local Lions Club.
Haugen said there are a range of benefits to having living projects in the classroom. Of course, there is an educational aspect that directly ties into the subject of life science, but the animals also help keep students interested and engaged in a tactile way.
“So many of them are just engaged with their phones all day long, I want to provide them something that’s a little more realistic,” Haugen said. “(It’s) just trying to get them involved with nature and to think outside that little box that they’ve been in.”
Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to email@example.com.