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FY 2016 Program Highlights

Pacific Region Fish and Aquatic Conservation offices bring live fish and Pacific Region National Fish Hatchery visits to a record number of classrooms and students in 2016.
School's in Session: Salmon in the Classroom Gives Northwest Students a 'Fish-Eye' View of the Salmon Lifecycle.

by Sean Connolly, Division of Fish and Aquatic Conservation

Most people rarely see the first stages of the salmon life cycle up close and personal. For over 25 years, innovative, Fish and Aquatic Conservation (FAC) programs that bring tanks filled with live, embryonic fish into (human) schools have changed that for tens of thousands of Pacific Northwest schoolchildren.

In 2016, a dozen FAC stations and hatcheries worked with partners, volunteers and nearly 80 Pacific Northwest schools--a new program high-- to showcase the remarkable transformation of eggs to salmon in school classrooms or libraries via programs known alternatively as Salmon in the Classroom, Hatchery in the Classroom, or Track a Trout.

A U.S. Fish and Widlife Service Salmon in the Classroom tank (complete with fish).
Credit: Sean Connolly/USFWS

Regardless of the name, the programs' aims are the same: bring aquaria with native, coldwater fish eggs nearly ready to hatch into classrooms; let students and teachers (and parents) watch the transformation happen and young fish emerge from eggs and grow, and have the kids work on salmonid-themed lessons over a 50-75 day period before the fish are released.

This last year, over 4,000 pre-school through 12th graders directly participated in the programs. Since many program tanks are placed in school public areas like the library, even more get to see infant (alevin) fish emerge from 'eyed-up' eggs and in less than 100 days grow into fry ready to eat solid food and be released into a local river or stream.

Students in Central Washington prepare to release salmon fry. Credit: Matt Cooper/USFWS

In some areas, not only do students release "their" fish back into the wild, they dissect adult fish to get a hands-on lesson in fish anatomy. Two schools in central Washington actually learn how fisheries scientists use Passive Integrated Transponder tags to track the movement of salmon another on the Olympic Peninsula video conferences with a Service biologist who checks in on the fish and answers questions. All Salmon in the Classroom participants also get to tour a National Fish Hatchery where the eggs originated from, either at the beginning or the end of the program.

Salmon in the Classroom participants visit a National Fish Hatchery. Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS

Teachers and school districts are big fans of the program, since curriculum elements -- salmon life cycle, understanding and measuring water quality, wildlife observation, habitats and watersheds, using real-world mathematical calculations to track fish, predict ideal water temperatures, and estimate fish growth rates -- correlate with Next Generation Science and Common Core Standards. Students, meanwhile, love the up-close connection with live animals, even if their finned subjects smell, well, a little fishy.

Salmon fry. Photo Credit: USFWS

While FAC staff are often the lead on providing teacher training, bringing schools supplies and eggs, running fish dissections and coordinating release dates, increasingly offices are collaborating with tribes, volunteers, and non-profits to sustain or even expand the reach of "Salmon in the Classroom" programs to new audiences. Warm Springs National Fish Hatchery is working with the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs to bring its spring Chinook eggs into at least six central Oregon classroom programs. Six classrooms in southwest Washington participate in the program thanks to a collaboration between the Service and the Yakama Nation Fisheries Program.


Leavenworth NFH Assistant Hatchery Manager Travis Collier releases salmon fry as part of an area Salmon in the Classroom program. Photo Credit: USFWS

The Mid-Columbia Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) and Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery have brought the program into two Central Washington elementary schools with the help of an AmeriCorps Service Member. Dworshak National Fish Hatchery in Ahsahka, Idaho, meanwhile, directly works with 11 schools and provides eggs to 23 schools in both Washington and Idaho. The hatchery also recently initiated a similar Lamprey in the Classroom project in collaboration with the Nez Perce Tribe. The hatchery's extensive geographic program reach is powered by not only Service staff, but half of its 22 volunteers who are active in both Salmon and Lamprey in the Classroom programs.

Idaho students participating in a pilot Lamprey in the Classroom project view adult Pacific lamprey.
Photo Credit: Jill Olson/USFWS.

In Portland, Oregon, area FAC offices in 2016 teamed up with the Blueprint Foundation's Grounding Waters Black Youth Mentoring Program to train high school volunteers to mentor 4th grade Salmon in the Classroom participants in three North Portland schools. The Western Washington FWCO and Makah NFH applied the same approach to re-initiate a Salmon in the Classroom program for Makah Tribe students in Neah Bay, Washington, and introduced the FWCO's successful Youth Fisheries Academy Camp as part of the program. Three AmeriCorps Service Members work with local staff to run the program across five schools.
But the bedrock of the Pacific Region FAC Program's effort lies in the Columbia River Gorge Fisheries Complex, where Carson, Eagle Creek, Little White Salmon, Warm Springs, Willard, and Spring National Fish Hatcheries and staff have not only been supporting Salmon in the Classroom for a quarter of a century but mentoring and supporting other FAC and tribal (Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs and Yakama Nation Fisheries Program) partners interested in jump-starting their own programs. The Complex's Salmon in the Classroom program reaches on average 24-30 classes per year on both the Oregon and Washington sides of the Columbia River, the region's salmon superhighway, and staff literally wrote the curriculum many FAC stations use now.

Cheri Anderson --author of the current Salmon in the Classroom curriculm, assists with a fish dissection. Photo Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS.

What's next for the Service's Salmon in the Classroom programs? Continuing to innovate and update its programs and lessons, including exploring options to further incorporate multi-media elements and additional video conferencing into the curriculum. Expanding partnerships, including connecting with sister state wildlife agency programs such as Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's highly successful Eggs to Fry program to bring more tanks--and eggs--into schools. Exploring opportunities to broaden the ' the Classroom' activities to include Pacific lamprey, another native, ocean-migrating fish species.

Split-screen view of a Service biologist fielding questions from a classroom five hours away. The agency is exploring more options to use video conferencing and distance learning as part of its Salmon n the Classroom programs.
Photo Credit: Dan Spencer/USFWS.

However the FAC programs Salmon in the Classroom presence evolves, it's hard not to reflect back on and appreciate that collectively it's given at least 30,000-35,000 area students over the years a glimpse into an underwater world they might not otherwise get, and an up-close connection with an iconic Northwest aquatic species during their remarkable, and incredibly fragile, first days of life.

Want to read more about Salmon in the Classroom? Check out these blogs:

Salmon in the Classroom, Portland Public Schools
Salmon in the Classroom, Western Washington


More Resources:

Salmon in the Classroom Curriculum (.pdf)
Salmon in the Classroom Booklet (Word)
Tank Care Guidelines (.pdf)
Columbia River Gorge Fisheries Complex Information & Education Program (509-493-2934; email)

Salmon in the Classroom, By the Numbers:

2016 Participating Schools:
Students Directly Participating in the Program in 2016:
More than 4,000
Pacific Region FAC Stations that help:
3 Fish and Wildlife Conservation Offices;
9 National Fish Hatcheries;
Regional Office.
Year Our SiC Programs First Started:
Estimate of Students Reached since inception:
Between 30,000-35,000
Last Updated: November 12, 2019
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