At the salmon release station on the Clear Creek Trail, 75 grade four students were eager to let the fish they’ve been raising since January swim in Clear Creek on Friday.
They were among fourth-graders in classes at Central Kitsap School District who participated in the Salmon in the Classroom program this winter and will spend late March and early April doing the same, as the program celebrates its 45th year of education. students about the life cycle of salmon.
Teachers, parent chaperones, Clear Creek Trail Taskforce volunteers and WSU Extension students were all there to help the kids through the stations and teach them about the life cycle and habitat of salmon.
From January to March, when the fish are growing, students discover salmon in Kitsap’s streams, said Mary Earl, director of Clear Creek Trail.
Once in Clear Creek, the fourth graders had to answer a question from a WSU Extension student volunteer about what they already knew about salmon. Then they are given cups of chum fry and told to put their hands on them so the fish don’t jump out. Students take turns descending into the water to use a long pole to gently release their fish into the stream.
The Salmon in the Classroom program at Clear Creek Trail has been running since 1988, said Pat Kirschbaum of the Kitsap County Public Works Stormwater Division, with some changes over the years. The liberation areas have changed and the activities carried out during the field visit have varied over the years.
The program was started by the Central Kitsap Kiwanis Club, Earl said. The tanks were made from old refrigerator parts to keep the fish as fresh as they would be in a stream.
The eggs come from the Suquamish Tribe’s Grovers Creek Salmon Hatchery, and students can watch them grow. Chum salmon are used as they are the largest and best in Kitsap streams.
Typically, fourth graders are involved, but sometimes grade levels change. Normally, salmon in the classroom is done every year, but with COVID-19, this is the first field trip for the kids in over two years.
This year, the booklets to be completed by the children are new. They have questions for each station. The bug station asks things like how many legs the bugs have and asks students to draw one of the bugs, teaching them their importance to the flow. The Plant Station has questions about plants like Pacific willow and red flowering currant. At the observation post, the booklet asks children to write a poem about what they see.
Marin Merz, a parent volunteer with a group from Green Mountain Elementary, said it was wonderful for the kids to be outdoors. They haven’t been anywhere in a while, she said.
At the viewing station, Emma Henderson, a fourth-grade student from Green Mountain, says she was thrilled to release the salmon and had fun learning about the plants and insects.
As Stacy Ivy and her son Lane Ivy watched the plants, he also began to get excited about releasing the baby salmon.
“It’s super fun,” he said of the field trip.
Volunteers keep track of the number of fry released for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the hatchery. Some kids named their fish —one was called Shaq Wiggleworm the Third.
Stephanie Devey, a teacher at Green Mountain Elementary, said the program is fantastic and the curriculum is provided which makes it easy for teachers.
“I know they’re super excited about going on a school field trip,” she said of the students.
The salmon releases will last 15 days, Earl said. Some days have sessions with two school groups. Once the versions are complete, Kirschbaum will talk with teachers and volunteers to see if improvements can be made to the program. She said the pandemic offered a new way of looking at things and that different approaches could be taken in the future.