Over the past four months Mrs. Perry’s seventh grade life science students at Grayson Highlands School have been diligently raising native brook trout in their school lobby for all visitors to see. This is part of a program called “Trout in the Classroom” and revolves around the students learning about the biology and ecology of one of the most iconic species of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
In November of 2013 the VDIGF fish hatchery in Marion provided the school with over two hundred freshly fertilized eggs. Transported on ice, the eggs were delivered to the students and their newly minted 55 gallon aquarium.
With the assistance of Blue Ridge Discovery Center, the students set up the aquarium to replicate the natural environment of the brook trout. Recreating the pristine waters of the Mount Rogers watershed is quite the challenge. To accomplish this they outfitted the aquarium with a four-layer water filter, a powerful oxygenator, and a cooling unit to keep the water temperature at a frigid 51 degrees Fahrenheit. To make their trout feel at home the students painted a mural of underwater habitat and taped it to three sides of the aquarium. They also collected logs and stones from the brook behind the school to create an aquarium substrate and establish a natural cleansing cycle with healthy bacteria.
Within two weeks of their arrival the eggs started to hatch, growing tails and beady eyes. As tiny “Alevin” the brook trout still fed on their egg yolks and stayed relatively inactive. During this stage of development, the students were able to observe the trout under microscopes and watch the tiny two chamber heart circulate blood throughout the body. With a watchful eye from the school custodians, the fragile trout amazingly survived the winter break and a series of school closings until the students returned for the spring semester.
Now that the brook trout developed into “fry” the students have learned the rocky road of managing an aquarium. Each day they test the water for high levels of ammonia, nitrites and nitrates then check the water pH balance and temperature for inconsistencies while logging it all in a project notebook. They make sure they feed the hungry brook trout enough food but not too much! To date, the students have managed to raise over 100 fingerling brook trout in their 55 gallon tank.
With a little luck and a lot of hard work, this spring the students will be rewarded with a trip to a local trout stream to release their prized young into the wild! While at the stream the students will don waders and participate in another Blue Ridge Discovery Center program called “Project Fishbugs” where they will learn all about the complex context that sustains brook trout in our wild mountain streams.
“Trout in the Classroom” (A Trout Unlimited Program), was provided by Blue Ridge Discovery Center with generous support from The Harris Francis Block Foundation, Trout Unlimited and Grayson National Bank.
If you would like to see Trout in the Classroom in your school, please contact Blue Ridge Discovery Center to express your support this program: firstname.lastname@example.org