On Wednesday, Nov 16th, Courtney Kiley, teacher at Community High School, drove two hours to Wolf Lake Hatchery in Mattawan, Michigan, to pick up 150 eyed Chinook salmon eggs. Kiley has a 70 gallon tank in her classroom where the salmon will live until May.
Kiley started raising salmon through a program with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “It’s part of a program called Salmon in the Classroom.” Kiley said. “They do it mostly for educational purposes but the DNR stocks salmon to the Great Lakes to eat other invasive species.” Salmon in the Classroom is also for educational purposes and for the big sport fishery around the fish. “We raised them and then in May we put them into the lower Huron River so that they can feed in lake Erie and spawn in the Yurok River.”
Salmon in the Classroom informally started in 1997. Since then it has become an official program and has grown exponentially. Just around 300 teachers, from elementary to high school, participate in Salmon in the Classroom. Tracy Page, Aquatic Education Coordinator at the DNR, is in charge of making sure all teachers receive their salmon eggs. “I take about 60 bags of eggs to a central location where the teachers come to me and pick them up.” Page said “We do those all over the state and I also run new teacher workshops, where we train new teachers on how to run the program and how to keep their tanks happy and their salmon alive.”
Page is thrilled anytime she has the opportunity to work with students through the program. “I get to work with the students a little bit less because there’s 30,000 of them in the state. So it’s hard for me to get around but anytime I get to go out to a school and work with students or help with a release day in the spring, that’s always the best part.”
Not only does Page love working with students but she believes that it is a great learning opportunity for kids. “The best part is it’s hands-on,” Page said. “Students get to take care of the tanks, they get to take care of the salmon, feed them and release them in the spring. So unlike a lot of education, where you’re just learning from a book or from a video, students actually get to take care of a living resource and be part of it. The program hopefully creates a stewardship amongst the students where they want to help take care of the natural world because now they’ve built this connection with these super charismatic, cute little fish that they want to be part of the bigger picture and take care of the lakes and you know, our ecology and the environment.”
Kiley also loves the hands-on learning that Salmon in the Classroom offers. When asked what her favorite part of raising fish was she said, “When they hatch out of their eggs, they have to swim up to the surface to take their first and only breath of air to fill their gas bladders which they have inside their bodies and they use their gas bladders to regulate where they are in the water column. So you watch them hatch and swim up. It’s like the most magical thing ever. Plus it’s just fun, we’ve had two headed salmon and we’ve had other types of mutations with no eyes and it’s just cool to see what comes out.”
The salmon will be in room 318 until May. Kiley welcomes all who want to come see the fish.”