East Lyme students turn disappointment into learning experience

Niantic — For one class of first-graders Sunday did not go as expected, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t still a great learning experience.

On a windy Sunday afternoon, more than a dozen students from Niantic Center School gathered with their families at Gorton Pond for what was supposed to be the culmination of their effort to raise trout.

On slate for the day was fun outside with outdoor lessons about fish and ponds in life cycles, fly fishing and other casting activities and ultimately the release of the 40 classroom-raised trout into the pond.

Unfortunately, the last event didn’t work out quite as expected because since the students left their fish at school on Friday, all of them died due to an unknown issue in the tank.

But rather than the morbid turn ruining the day for students – there wasn’t any crying - they still had a great day with the other activities and walked away with yet another lesson about nature. 

“It’s OK to be sad … but this is all part of what we are learning about with life cycles and animals and plants and everything else,” said Diane Swan, a Niantic Center School teacher and school science coordinator, when breaking the news to her class. “Even though we do everything we think we’re doing right as humans to help them, sometimes things go wrong.”

It was the first time the Niantic Center School first-grade class participated in the program and although their experience was slightly unique, it was similar in many ways to that of more than a dozen schools in Southeastern Connecticut that participate in the “Trout in the Classroom” environmental education program.

The program was done in conjunction with the Thames River Chapter of Trout Unlimited, a nonprofit conservation, restoration and protection of North America’s coldwater fisheries.

In the program, classroom teachers set up an aquarium and receive eggs from Trout Unlimited which works in cooperation with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The eggs then incubate in classroom tanks leaving students – under the guidance of the teacher - responsible for the daily maintenance and observation of the eggs and fish that hatch from them. Eventually the students release the trout into a stream.

For teachers the trout can be used to help teach students in all grade levels and across a variety of curriculum from science and art to English and math.

For instance, in the Niantic Center class Swan used the trout as teaching tool on life cycles in science. Back in November, the class received 200 eggs, then proceeded to learn about the life cycle as they fed their fish and watched them grow, starting as eggs, developing into fry, and eventually reaching the state where they were ready to be released into the wild.

“The children loved it,” Swan said of raising the trout, adding it was part of a variety of life cycle things the class uses. In the next few weeks they’ll receive caterpillars that they’ll watch transform into butterflies.

Dave Parry, the coordinator from Trout Unlimited, said the program is a great way to give kids hands-on-experience and get them out in nature, as well as provide lasting memories.

"Maybe this will be something somebody gets excited about and they'll get a lifelong joy from, and for others it is just a great learning experience," Parry said, adding the program also helps teach about the importance of clean water. "It's not about fishing, it's about conservation ... the things that need to be done to ensure we have quality water that trout can live in."

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