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Students of salmon

Oak Heights kids learn about fish live and up close


November 22, 2017

KYLEIGH CUTBIRTH points to artwork over a tank of recently hatched salmon, explaining the life cycle of salmon. Kaydence Gerdes is beside her. The girls are part of Zach Sartin's fourth-grade class at Oak Heights. The class hatched and raised the salmon as part of an Salmon Trout Enhancement Program activity to help educate students about the fish.

Zach Sartin's fourth-grade class at Oak Heights released a handful of surviving salmon fry into the South Santiam River Monday, Nov. 20, capping its involvement in this year's egg-to-fry project.

Classrooms in the mid-Willamette Valley hatch some 20,000 Chinook salmon eggs for release into the rivers each year, and a similar program for rainbow trout involves 45 classrooms.

"I have about 75 teachers in my district," said Karen Hans, a Salmon Trout Enhancement Program biologist with the Ore--gon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Her district ranges from Salem to just north of Eugene and Sweet Home to Corvallis, including school districts of all sizes.

Volunteers deliver the eggs to each classroom, where teachers have set up aquariums with a method for chilling water, which must remain below 60 degrees.

The number of eggs is small relative to the wild and hatchery programs, which produce millions of eggs.

"The purpose of the program is education not propagation," Hans said.

Sartin's class is studying the life cycle in science right now, he said, and the salmon are a natural connection to the subject.

This is his second year doing the program, he said. He inherited it after third-grade teacher Deborah Rehart decided she did not want to continue.

"It's something live to look at," he said. The students were excited to watch the eggs hatch.

Last year, the eggs hatched during a weekend, Sartin said. "This time, we got to see a little bit of the process."

Kaydence Gerdes, 10, said the baby fish looked like they were dancing.

The class didn't focus on it, but the students were able to make a variety of observations, Sartin said.

"They're in the alevin stage," Kyleigh Cutbirth, 9, told a visitor last week. During that stage, she said, "you don't have to feed them because it comes with a food sack."

They'll go into the river as they use up their yolk and become fry, she explained, standing near the tank and student artwork depicting the salmon life cycle.

"When we saw the very first eggs (hatch three weeks ago), everybody freaked out," Kyleigh said. "It was fun."

"I just like to draw the adults and write about (their) life cycle," Kaydence said.

"It's nice to see all my classmates care as much as I do about the fish," Kyleigh said. "I just think it's really cool that I get to see them hatch and grow."

The fish ran into problems this year though. At some point last week, the tank was unplugged, and the temperature increased in the tank. Most of the fish died as a result.

Sartin said nine survived to reach the river Monday morning.

"To me it's kind of sad that they all died," Kyleigh said. "That's life."

It's a lesson, Hans said. "You can use this as a demonstration to the students how important water quality is."

The salmon need the correct conditions in order to survive, she said.

The surviving fish were transported to Wiley Creek Boat Ramp Monday morning and released into the South Santiam River. Then the class rode across the dam to the north side of the river to visit the South Santiam Fish Hatchery.

"It's a hallmark of our program," Hans said. "We've had it going pretty much 25 years."

All 10 STEP biologists with ODFW run the egg-to-fry program. In places like Portland, more than 200 classrooms participate.

Other organizations have egg-to-fry programs across the country, Hans said, and she knows one teacher doing it in Scotland.

"The biggest benefit is to the salmon," she said. "The more children understand about them, the more they see them as a real live creature, the more they're going to respect them and want to protect them. When you put these fish in the school, in the classroom, it's real to them" – in a way that pictures and the written word cannot make them.

STUDENTS from Zach Sartin's fourth-grade class at Oak Heights are fascinated by rainbow trout visible in an outdoor aquarium at the South Santiam Fish Hatchery.

All grades participate in egg-to-fry programs across the state, she said, but it's particularly relevant to third and fifth grades.

It also works well for teachers who participate in Salmon Watch programs, during which classes go out to the rivers to learn about and observe salmon before returning to their classroom aquarium.

STEP biologists are busy trying to integrate the new science standards into the program, Hans said, but it is a flexible classroom tool.

"Teachers can use it in just about everything they teach," she said. Beyond science, it can help with math lessons. Students can write about the project. Teachers can use it as a springboard for art. In science, it addresses biology, chemistry and much more.

When they release the fish, teachers can incorporate lessons about creeks and rivers, Hans said. "I have teachers that incorporate their whole curriculum."


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