NewBrook students raise, release trout as part of months-long science program

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Photo Gallery | Releasing Trout

BROOKLINE — Fourth- and fifth-grade students at NewBrook Elementary School released trout into Grassy Brook Thursday morning as the culmination of a months-long project.

Since January, these students have raised trout from eggs to fingerlings through Trout in the Classroom, an educational program where students learn a variety of lessons about the environment and its animals. Jason Gragen, NewBrook Elementary's fourth- and fifth-grade math and science teacher, tirelessly helped the students with this task. Over five months they monitored the tank water quality, engaged in a stream habitat study, learned about ecosystems and were encouraged to appreciate water resources and cherish a conservation integrity.

"It's been a fun project, I think each one of you took something away from this educationally, but most importantly this was a conservation effort," said Gragen. "You all are helping the environment by stocking fish in a local brook here and hopefully you'll look back on this experience and think it was a worthwhile experience."

Thursday morning the students piled on a bus from NewBrook Elementary and were dropped off near the Sunny Lane Day Care. They walked down a trail behind the school to reach Grassy Brook where they would then release the trout. Gragen gave each student a plastic cup that contained about two fry, then individually all 30-plus students gently deposited them into the water. Afterwards, the students sketched in their last entry into journals that they have actively used since January. Typically the students would complete two journal entries a week, which included the life cycle of the trout, watersheds, ecosystems, the life cycle of aquatic insects, pollution and benthic macroinvertebrates.

Some of Gragen's fifth-grade students – Ainsley Meyer, Makyla Fronent, Annika Crego and Emily Houle – reminisced about some of the highlights from their project.

"One time we found the PH wasn't right and Ainsley was helping Mr. G with the tank and all of the sudden water went everywhere and he was like 'turn it off,' and Ainsley was like, 'it's not plugged in!'"

The girls giggled and Ainsley added, "It turned out that day, he found out what was wrong with the water levels; it was because actually some of the smaller fish got stuck in the filter and they died, so it messed with the water levels."

This project tank setup and curriculum was funded by the Connecticut River Chapter of Trout Unlimited, and this was the first year NewBrook students released trout; in previous years they have released salmon. Joe Mark, retired dean of students from Castleton College provided technical assistance, answered questions and created a web blog for all schools to utilize throughout the state. Each teacher tailors the program to their curricular desires.

Gragen said one of the most challenging aspects throughout the project was keeping the chemical levels steady. Some of his students felt that feeding the fish was difficult because earlier on many of the fish would not swim to the surface to retrieve the food, yet it was the job of the students to make sure no food hit the bottom of the tank. The students also expressed their excitement of watching the fish develop.

"The past couple of days, Mr. G has just dropped food in the tank and they all go nuts," said Ainsley.

Another student, Lexy Bilis, said her favorite part of the project was watching Gragen place chemicals into the water and she enjoyed seeing the change of colors.

Gragen said the most challenging aspect of the project was keeping the chemical level even, such as nitrate, nitrite and ammonia.

"You should know that Mr. Gragen came in over both breaks every day to keep up with it," said NewBrook Elementary Principal Scotty Tabachnick.

Out of all the teaching aspects of this project, Gragen said his favorite part of the program was watching the kids release the trout into the brook.

"We brought the wilderness into the classroom, now we're bring the classroom into the wilderness," said Gragen.

Gragen has attempted to release trout into state-approved streams twice, with what he said was "limited success." However, he noted that he had great success releasing Atlantic salmon for eight years while he taught at Jamaica Elementary School. However, that program ended when the natural hatchery was washed out by Tropical Storm Irene.

"This year was great, I gather this program is going to gain in momentum in years to come," said Gragen.

Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275


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