In a bittersweet moment Friday, May 10 about 15 Memorial Middle School students said goodbye to the 180 trout they’d been raising since the start of the year.
The fifth and sixth-graders traveled to Wadsworth State Park and with help from a few Trout Unlimited volunteers, released the fish one by one into the stream.
The students were part of this year’s Memorial School “Trout Club” or Trout in the Classroom program.
“They were definitely looking forward to this day. There were a few tears this morning ... since (the trout) have been in the classroom since January, it's really been a part of our classroom,” said special education teacher Mike McGrady, who coordinated the program this year.
Trout Unlimited supplies the equipment and the eggs. These usually arrive mid-November, but came close to Christmas this year. The kids get to watch the trout grow from eggs to about two-inch fish, all the while taking responsibility for their care.
Raising the trout has been a daily job since January, with feedings, checking water levels and counting fish.
McGrady said some of the kids would race into the classroom every morning hoping to be the first one to feed them.
“They wanted to be part of it,” McGrady said.
Fifth-grader Tatum Sass would often be the first to the classroom for feeding in the morning, her favorite part of the process was getting to see the fish every day.
“I love trout and I love to fish,” Sass said. “As soon as I heard there was a trout club I said 'I need to be in this or I will die.’”
Although the students were sad to see the fish go, McGrady said they were looking forward to seeing them in their natural environment. Because the kids are so familiar with the Wadsworth State Park area, he believes they’ll be thinking about the fish every time they visit.
“I think bringing the trout in is just a way for them to see what is actually in these resources that they have … and that could become even more important to them,” McGrady said.
Fifth-grader Xavien Rosario said he enjoyed testing the trouts’ water. The students were responsible for making sure the water was kept at an optimal temperature for the fish and had proper ammonium and pH levels.
A large part of the program is promoting conservation and environmental protection. Program coordinators say they hope the practice of caring for living creatures, learning about their habitats, diets and behaviors, will foster a lifelong appreciation for nature.
Trout Unlimited is a national organization that promotes the preservation of clean, cold water and sponsors the Trout in the Classroom program.
“You don’t know when you’re going to light a fire in a child who’s going to remember this and somebody become a member of the legislature, doctor ... and he’s going to be a strong supporter of environmental clean water,” said Bill Glueck, Trout Unlimited volunteer and founder of the Memorial School program.
Memorial School was one of the first Trout in the Classroom programs in the state, starting off around 2005, according to Glueck.
Glueck helped coordinate Trout in the Classroom programs with his longtime friend Hugh McCutchen, who died late last month. Both men won the Coginchaug Valley Education Foundation’s Howard Kelley Community Service Award in 2016 for their efforts with Trout in the Classroom.
There are now more than 100 Trout in the Classroom programs in schools across the state.