Source: Sherman Publications

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Students carefor salmon eggs

by Gabriel L. Ouzounian

November 16, 2011

Fish tanks are far from uncommon in the average elementary classroom, but the school of fish housed by the Good Shepard Lutheran Church has taken the aquarium to the next level.

Good Shepard, located at 1950 South Baldwin Road, has tasked its students with raising salmon. The fish, which were delivered Nov. 9, arrived as eggs.

"Kids aged first through eighth grade are helping run the tank and they're just so excited," said Environmental Science Teacher Chrissy VanDellen. "It's totally student driven - they're doing the testing, cleaning the tank and the hope is they can take this knowledge and share it with others."

The tank, unlike simple goldfish bowls, is strictly maintained. A machine actively keeps the temperature of the water stable, PH levels are monitored frequently and the quality of the water is maintained constantly. The idea to bring in the tank first came up as the school's staff began planning the newly added environmental science class.

Starting in 1997, Michigan's Department of Natural Resources began a program to grant salmon eggs to classrooms provided they possessed the proper equipment to raise the fish. Around 23 schools in Michigan participate in the program and now, thanks to donations from Plymouth Technology (a water treatment company), Good Shepard has salmon eggs to be cared for.

VanDellen and science teacher Patty Lobos said they hope to teach a number of different lessons with the salmon.

"The goals i to learn more on the Great Lakes ecosystem and why it's so important to keep water clean," said VanDellen. "Learning about the importance of the salmon branches into the importance of water quality and how salmon, which were not originally native to the Great Lakes, came to Michigan.

"An invasive species called the Lamprey eel began killing off the trout. When they started dying, the trout's prey - tiny fish called Alwife - started over breeding. It got so bad they were washing up on the beaches, but thanks to the introduction of the salmon the population is back down."

Besides simply feeding the fish and maintaining the tank, the kids have also been tasked with recording the water's chemical information and record it. Lobos thinks that when the kids test the water of the stream where they will eventually release the fish in May 2012, it will impact how important maintaining natural water is to the well-being of wildlife.

"We can stop the ammonia from going up in our tank, but when we dump toxins in the rivers there's no way to get them out," said Lobos. "They have a technology class where we input the data we collect from the tank, analyze it, fix it, and apply it. It's fun, but what we're doing is not just for fun.

"It sends a strong message to these kids to protect the wildlife."