When the Trout in the Classroom program started six years ago, the first batch of trout eggs was hatched out of wine coolers. The program has come a long way since then.
Trout in the Classroom is a national program sponsored by Trouts Unlimited and run in South Dakota by South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks education services coordinator Maggie Lindsey. It has blossomed into a program that will include 21 classrooms across the state in 2018 with nine more on the waiting list.
The program's goal, according to Lindsey, is to teach children about trout lifecycles, water quality and habitat by giving a classroom trout eggs to raise throughout the school year, and release them when they are fingerlings and a GF&P official has deemed them healthy in approved waterways.
In addition to lifecycles, water quality and habitat the program also must teach a fishing and a aquatic invasive species component. In addition, students are required to use math to calculate how much food is needed.
"The kids get really attached to the fish, when they can see it first hand and get hands-on experience and see the life cycles, it’s really neat," Lindsey said. "I know release date is sad and happy at the same time."
Through a grant, Lindsey provides a chiller (water temperatures must stay in the high 50s or low 60s for trout to survive in an aquarium), a filter, a tank and the trout eggs.
Lindsey said the majority of the classrooms in the programs are older students at the middle and high school level, but there are some classrooms in the state that are as young as first grade. Lindsey said most of the classrooms decide to stay with the program, and she tries to add four new classrooms a year.
Classrooms that participate in the program is loaned the equipment for as long as they decide to be involved.
Trouts Unlimited and Black Hills Fly Fishers both come into classrooms to teach classes on fishing, which is one of the components of the program.
In addition, BFF sponsors two classrooms, one in Stevens High School and one in St. Thomas More Middle School, both in Rapid City.
"It’s a way for conservation minded groups to get young people engaged and interested and feeling like they're part of the natural world instead of just being observers," GF&P naturalist Keith Wintersteen said. "It’s one thing to say clean water is important and its quite another to look at an aquarium where the fish you’re taking care of aren’t doing well, and its up to you to clean things up."
Wintersteen helps with the three classrooms on the western side of the state.
Although the vast majority of the trout population in South Dakota is West of the Missouri River, the amount of classrooms participating in the program is much smaller than those on the East side.
Lindsey said she hopes to change that.
"Part of it is because a lot of teachers don’t know about it," she said. "It’s kind of a catch-22 because I want people to know about it, but I don’t have the funding to add a lot of schools all at once."
Lindsey said the equipment costs roughly $800 per classroom, with the most expensive piece of equipment being the chiller, which is between $450-500.
"I hope they learn about trout lifecycles and the math is pretty interesting too, but the big thing I hope is that they learn about water quality and habitat, what a trout requires for habitat, because there’s a lot to it," Lindsey said.
She said a lot of the most educational experiences comes from the failures of classrooms.
"We always have at least one classroom have 100 percent mortality and we go through the nitrogen cycle and ammonium cycle, we’ll have peaks in those and that’s where we have problems," she said. "It’s really interesting to see them experience it first-hand, and they understand how important water quality is."