Trout in The Classroom Teaches Broad Outdoors Experience

GORE — “Watch them!” Scott Hood called out as student after student released a plastic cup with a few fat rainbow trout into the Lower Illinois River Tuesday morning. “Even though they were raised in an aquarium, as soon as they’re in this new environment something in their brain naturally tells them to find a place to hide.”

Hood spoke to about 50 students from Catoosa High School and a few representatives of the Williams Cos. who released close to 100 rainbow trout fry into the river. The students raised the trout from eggs in their classroom since fall.

Tuesday marked the final step at the end of months of their learning project. For the Williams representatives, it was a look at a program the company gave $10,000 to help grow into its 10th year.

Trout in the Classroom is in 12 area schools this year. It demonstrates biology and chemistry as the trout hatch, grow and require oxygen and clean water with a good balance of bacteria and the appropriate pH and temperature for the fish to survive and grow fat and healthy.

At the riverside, the lessons from a 50-gallon aquarium meet the realities of a life in a wild environment.

Catoosa seniors Canaan Kallweit and Skylar Waters both witnessed a release for their second time this spring. They shot video and photographed the subjects at the culmination of their monthslong video project.

“This is a lot of fun for me and we’re able to benefit others with the video we’re making,” Kallweit said. “We started filming them when they were eggs, and we’ve just been every once in a while catching up on them. We’ll be putting a lot of facts in (the video) and also making it a little bit fun.”

The program, created by national Trout Unlimited and organized locally by Oklahoma Trout Unlimited Chapter 420, has added a few new schools each year since it started with a single tank nine years ago.

With the donation from Williams, it has the potential to add four more schools next year.

Barbara Hasbini, senior specialist for corporate social responsibility with Williams, said the company wants to be a part of students learning about the importance of clean water and species like rainbow trout and other fish and wildlife that are indicator species.

“Essentially, they learn that if the trout aren’t happy, then the water is not happy,” she said.

Skylar Waters said the Illinois River field trips are not just fun because of the trout, but all the other factors.

“Obviously, we get to let the trout go, and that is great, but that (the volunteers) are here to help us and teach about other things like what else lives in the water is neat. The electro-fishing today was neat. I had no idea they could do that with electricity, and I didn’t know we had so many varieties (of fish) here.”

Some volunteers sweep the river base to pull up macro invertebrates like leaches, freshwater shrimp and mayfly larvae that fish feed upon. Others give the students a chance to learn how to cast with a fly rod.

City of Tulsa Environmental Compliance Coordinator Brian Lewis and his crew used a portable electro-fishing unit to collect fish like stone-rollers and darters and even one brown trout, which only live in streams with relatively clean water.

Biology teacher Diana Nunes was the first local teacher to attempt a Trout in The Classroom project when she was at East Central High School nine years ago. She kept the program when she moved to Union High School and now does it at Catoosa.

She said the trout tank and its whirring filter pump and bubbling air filter now are part-and-parcel to the classroom experience and every year, following the release, the classroom feels empty without it.

Nunes watched students along the riverbank Tuesday and commented on what she saw.

“They’re very technologically oriented but to get outdoors, to smell different air, to feel the breeze, to experience it, like these guys, look at them, they’re along the riverbank and I don’t see many of them on their media right now. It’s because it’s a different environment. It’s a real neat that these kids get out and experience nature. That’s been a big thrust of mine, to get out in nature, to touch nature and to interact with it and see the different levels of participation,” she said.

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“There will always be those technological jobs to get into, but there has to be those few we spark that fire in to take care of what remains of our wilderness. It’s a beautiful thing. Some of them this is all it takes, and they start asking questions.”

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