STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald
Dozens of students at Mountain Middle School gathered eagerly around what appeared to be an empty fish tank, staring at what, at first glance, looks like a bunch of plain rocks. But the real reason for the excitement was hidden among the rocks: 200 trout eggs.
The wide-eyed students crowded at the tank, firing endless questions Thursday afternoon to their teacher, David Farkas.
“This is what it is all about,” Mountain Middle School Principal Shane Voss said, watching from the back. “Seeing kids excited about science.”
The 56 seventh-grade students in the life science class will raise the fish from the time they hatch until May, when they will release several hundred trout into the Animas River.
Until then, the students will have plenty of time to get to know the hatchlings as they study them through different phases of growth, part of their larger study of anatomical science and life cycles. Throughout the months, the students will be responsible for taking care of the fish, and the class will document the progress of their growth through daily pictures. By the time the fish are ready to be released, they will have grown to about 10 centimeters (4 inches), Farkas said.
“When students are allowed to see the development ... that makes a really big impact and gives you a really relevant tool to instruct them on life cycles,” said Brian Rottegar, who works with the class as a teacher leader.
The fish-raising program, called Trout in the Classroom, is something Voss said he’s long wanted to bring to the 3-year-old Mountain Middle School. Over the summer, the wheels were put into motion when he ran into Buck Skillen, president of the local Five Rivers Chapter of Trout Unlimited, a national trout and salmon conservation organization.
Skillen agreed to help coordinate the program and worked with the Colorado Trout Unlimited branch to supply the chiller and the pump for the aquarium. He also worked with Trout Unlimited to coordinate bringing the fish eggs to the school all the way from Washington state.
“We’ve been interested in this for a while. In the past, we’ve had a Trout in the Classroom going in the area, but until Shane came to me, we did not have anybody involved, so I was pleased to have that opportunity,” Skillen said.
It took slightly longer than expected for the fish to arrive, and when they did, the students were teeming with anticipation.
“They were anxiously waiting all week for our friends to show up,” Farkas said.
The fish are expected to hatch in about 20 days, which is when the students will start using them for study. But it’s not just life cycles the program gives them the chance to observe, Farkas said. The project also will be used as a lead-in to other topics, including studying microvertebrates, the river and possibly even bugs.
“This is the center component of a wide variety of things that we are going to do,” Farkas said.
The school is even looking at the possibility of a fly-fishing program once the fish are released into the river in the spring.
“We are a project-based school, so this fits in perfectly with that,” Rottegar said.
If all goes well, the teachers hope the program will become an annual event beginning even earlier in the year, around September, to allow the fish to grow larger.
“This is the extra effort you have to go through,” Voss said, “making these connections between the professionals and the schools.”
Sarah Ford is a junior majoring in journalism at the University of Denver. firstname.lastname@example.org.