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LEARNING ABOUT LIFE

Lake Thomason shows his salmon trivia board. ().
Lake Thomason shows his salmon trivia board. ().

Pilot story and photos

by ANDREA BARKAN

The walls of Jane Opiat's third-grade classroom at Kalmiopsis Elementary School are covered in colorful, student-made, construction-paper murals illustrating the life cycle of a salmon.

Just below a mobile of orange, green and blue paper fish sits an insulated tank where real salmon grow and develop – from egg to smolt – under the watchful eyes of Opiat's students.

Five Kalmiopsis third-grade classes and three sixth-grade classes at Azalea Middle School are raising Chinook salmon and will release them into the Chetco River sometime in March.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife funds the project as part of STEP, Salmon Trout Enhancement Program, STEP Biologist John Weber said.

"It's basically to bring some awareness to the kids," Weber said.

Oregon South Coast Fishermen donated the tanks, he said. The eggs, excess Chetco River stock from the Elk River Hatchery, went to the classrooms in mid-January.

Weber gave class presentations about the salmon life cycle and their habitat requirements.

He plans to do in-class dissections early next week.

"I think they get a lot more out of it when they get hands on," Weber said. "They actually get to see it happen."

Third-grader Daniel Chambers checks his classroom's tank temperature every morning.

"When (eggs) got to about 900 (temperature units), they hatched," he said.

His teacher, Judy Fowler, said her students took a field trip to Elk River Hatchery before getting their eggs.

"They did an awesome job of showing us how the fish go up the ladder," Fowler said.

Fowler's students keep journals about the fish's progress.

"We write about how they change every day and we draw pictures of them," student Trista Spencer said.

Using this project, Opiat said she hopes to teach her students a sense of responsibility for both the salmon and the earth.

Opiat's students made tabletop flip charts featuring questions and illustrated answers about all aspects of salmon life.

Weber said the Department of Fish and Wildlife promotes childhood education in the hopes it will produce environmentally-conscious adults.

"They better understand the fish," he said. "Which in the long run helps us because they become stewards. That's what you hope for."

Having fish to care for brings the lessons to life.

Plus, it "makes learning a little fun," Weber said.

"I'm happy if I leave that classroom and those kids understand the importance of shade to a stream," he said.

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