New program has students care for young fish, learn their role in ecosystem
By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
POCOPSON — The rain was falling, and Ryan Stephens was a little concerned about putting youngsters into the 43 degree water of Pocopson Creek.
In this case, the youngsters weren’t his fifth grade students from Pocopson Elementary School, but the tiny trout who would soon be released into the creek as part of a lesson activity, Friday.
“They’re pretty rugged, and used to cold water,” Stephens said, as he was looking to get the fish used water cooler than the 53 degree water they were being kept in, before students would be releasing them as part of the Trout In the Classroom program, co-sponsored by the Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited (PATU), Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC), and the support of Pennsylvania Department of Education.
More than 100 students — the entire fifth grade class at Pocopson — traveled by bus to the creek side, just off 926 on Brintons Bridge Road, to send the little swimmers off on their way, despite stead rains that curtailed or moved inside some of the other planned outside activities: a fly tying demonstration, a casting demonstration, a lesson on the ecosystem, and how trout fit into it — and a fitness activity.
Stephens was quick to caution that Friday’s exercise wasn’t a stocking effort – that’s something the state Fish and Boat Commission does, having stocked the creek once earlier this month, with additional stocking planned for April and May — but an effort to make the story of the trout seem more real and relevant for the students. And it was the culmination of classroom lessons and time spent by the students taking care of the young trout until they were ready for release.
By raising the trout and learning how they fit into the local ecosystem, Stephens said, students learn how everything fits together, how various biological systems are dependent on one another. Releasing the trout is sort of a culmination of that effort and makes the lessons more personal.
And it was clear from the care students took — some worrying about dropping the tiny fish from too high a height — that there was a real connection. Even with a light rain falling, the students were slow and careful to make sure their trout made it safely into the creek.
Stephens and Pocopson Elementary School principal Dr. Andrew McLaughlin attended training sessions to learn about the care and feeding of the trout, including a special cold water tank needed to keep the tiny fish at cooler than room temperatures. And while Pocopson is likely to make this part of the annual lesson, plan the hope is that the other three elementary schools in the district are able to participate at some point in the future.