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2017 Program Highlights

Portland-Based Salmon in the Classroom Expands into New Area Middle School With Help from a Key Partner

Salmon in the Classroom's in session once again in Portland Public Schools, and this time a new middle school and approximately 120 eight grade students are in attendance.

Salmon in the Classroom (SIC), a Pacific Region-developed curriculum in which live salmon eggs are brought into schools so students can study the fish as they hatch, grow, and then be released, added George Middle School in North Portland as a participant for school year 2016-2017.


Salmon in the Classroom is now in session at George Middle School, where six eighth grade classes participated in the program in 2017. Photo Credit: Jeff Johnson/USFWS
Now in its fifth year in Oregon's largest school district, the Service's Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) oriented SIC program has expanded by not only including a new school with six additional classes, but for the second year in a row getting a helping hand from students at Roosevelt, De La Salle North Catholic, and Alliance at Meek High Schools.


A YouTube video of the Salmon in the Classroom program at Woodlawn Elementary School in 2016.. Video Credit: Jamie Repasky


The high school students are participants in Grounding Waters, a Portland service-based program designed to educate and empower black youth through service learning and exposure to environmental science and STEM professionals of color. They help the Service with fish dissections conducted with more than 150 fourth-graders from Boise-Eliot Humbolt School and Woodlawn Elementary and the George Middle School eighth graders.


Service biologist Jeff Johnson instructs high school students on how to dissect an adult salmon. The students participate in the Grounding Waters program, whose volunteer assistance helped the Service bring Salmon in the Classroom instruction to George Middle School in 2017. Photo Credit: Sean Connolly/USFWS
After a successful pilot year in 2016 which teenagers were trained to and helped carry out SIC fish dissections, Grounding Waters recommended the Service include George Middle School into this year's program. Doing so not only allowed Portland SIC to reach more students of color--mutual Portland SIC and Grounding Waters program goals, but because the middle school graduates will later attend area high schools Grounding Waters works with, potentially providing a pipeline of future SIC program assistants and youth mentors.


A Woodlawn Elementary School student is a little hesitant abou the blood and guts that come with an adult salmon dissection..

...but with a little urging and assurances from her teacher and a high school aged Grounding Waters volunteer mentor, she dives into the dissection. Photo Credits: Jeff Johnson//USFWS
While the Portland-based SIC program is coordinated by Columbia River Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office Fish Biologist Jeff Johnson, he's quick to point out how important the help from Grounding Waters is and that other area Service facilities and staff pitch in, too. The Columbia Gorge Fisheries Complex--which created the SIC program nearly two decades ago and conducts its own SIC program with 25-30 area schools -- provides technical assistance, eggs, and dissection fish.


Cheri Anderson, Information and Education Manager for the Columbia Gorge Fisheries Complex, teaches a lesson on fish anatomy. Anderson created the Salmon in the Classroom program over 18 years ago. Photo Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
The Complex's Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery also serves as the Portland-based program's salmon fry release site, and on release day students tour the facility to learn about how a hatchery works and how the Service uses cutting edge technology to mass-mark fish to support tribal, commercial, and sportfishing harvests.

Another Complex facility, Eagle Creek NFH, provides the fish used to train high school students on salmon anatomy and fish dissection techniques. This year two Student Conservation Association participants stationed at the Abernathy Fish Technology Center are also pitching in to help on fish release day and Fashion a Fish, an in-class activity where the students parlay knowledge about physiological and behavioral salmon adaptations into fish artwork.


Student illustration from the Salmon in the Classroom 'Fashion a Fish' lesson. Students learn about behavioral and physiological adaptations in salmon, then apply that knowledge to fish art they create. Photo Credit: Jeff Johnson/USFWS
The Portland-based SIC program is a key part of a larger, region-wide Service effort that reaches between 75-80 classrooms in more than three dozen Oregon, Idaho, and Washington schools. In a unique twist, two of the three Portland Public Schools each stage their salmon tanks in their libraries, allowing the entire school to witness the remarkable transformation from fish eggs to fry in less than 3 months. Although fourth--and now at George M.S. eighth--grade students receive most of the SIC program's instruction, that allows the school communities to collectively learn about and develop a sense of pride and ownership over 'their' fish.


Jeff Johnson, a Service biologist who coordinates the Portland-area Salmon in the Classroom program, prepares to release salmon fry into the Columbia River. The fish have spent the last three months inside a tank placed in Portland Public School so students could watch the fish grow from an egg to a fry. Photo Credit: Cheri Anderson/USFWS
"It's really a school-wide program," says Johnson.


Story by Sean Connolly, Pacific Region Fish and Aquatic Conservation Program


Last Updated: May 25, 2017
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