Something fishy’s going on in these classrooms!

By on January 28, 2019

Manor Middle School students at Lancaster County Conservancy’s Climber’s Run prepare to release fingerling brook trout into the stream. (Photo by Mark Kaiser)

Classrooms offer a variety of learning opportunities. In addition to learning from books or computers, students may also have an opportunity for hands-on learning experiences.

Trout in the Classroom is one of those hands-on experiences. Participating classrooms raise brook trout from eggs to fingerlings in an aquarium and then release them.

Why brook trout? It’s the Pennsylvania state fish.

“The main goal is to familiarize kids with conservation and clean water. Trout like cooler water with temperatures in the 50s. They can survive in the headwaters of the Conestoga River. But, as the river flows through the county, the water gets warmer and they can’t survive. Placing trees along streams helps provide shade and keeps the water from warming up,” explained Ned Bushong, Donegal Trout Unlimited education chairperson.

He said the program, has been around for over a decade. It’s made possible through a unique partnership between PA Fish and Boat Commission and the PA Council of Trout Unlimited. This partnership, coupled with assistance from local conservation organizations, was created to introduce Pennsylvania students to coldwater resources and their importance to all communities. The partnership also provides brook trout eggs, trout food, technical assistance, curriculum connections, and teacher workshops each year.

Trout in the Classroom (TIC) is an interdisciplinary program for students in grades 3 through 12. Donegal Trout Unlimited sponsors 17 classrooms in 14 schools in the county. Bushong said that number will increase to 21 classrooms in the fall of 2019. Participating school districts include Ephrata, Warwick, Conestoga Valley, Pequea Valley, Manheim Central, Garden Spot, Penn Manor, Lampeter-Strasburg, Manheim Township, Cocalico, and School District of Lancaster. Other participating schools include Linden Hall, Lancaster County Day and the Janus School. Bushong said Elizabethtown and Columbia school districts have their own TIC programs.

According to Bushong, Donegal Trout Unlimited provides supplies and equipment to get the program set up in participating schools. Teachers receive instruction on the program through the state Trout Unlimited, including a workshop.

Students perform tests on water to see if it’s suitable for raising fish. (Photos provided by Eric Snavely)

Doe Run Elementary

This is the fourth year that Eric Snavely, a fourth grade teacher at Manheim Central’s Doe Run Elementary School, had participated in TIC. He had heard about the program a few years before he began participating.

“Kids may have experience with fish in an aquarium at home, but here they get to see the step-by-step lifecycle,” he said.

He said the program has several tie-ins to the curriculum. The lifecycle of the fish fits with biology. Students also learn about habitat. Watersheds and the importance of water quality are also part of the curriculum.

Eggs are delivered in November. By mid-December the fish were in the sac fry stage; they’re nourished by a yolk sac and live in and around to bottom gravel of the aquarium. Snavely said students do water testing for the aquarium three times each week, and when the trout are ready to be fed, students will have the responsibility to feed them.

Snavely also serves as the leader of an after-school nature club for all fourth grade students at the school. It meets twice a month and is funded by MCFEE (Manheim Central Foundation for Educational Enrichment).

“One of the things we do in the club is a study of macroinvertebrates that are found in the stream. We collect samples from the stream, identify the organisms, and then discuss how what we found relates to the health of the stream,” he explained, “About 30 students participate, so we also release the trout that day.”

Students gather around excitedly as the eggs arrive. (Photo provided by Eric Snavely)

Blue Ball Elementary

Rebecca Whitson, a fourth grade teacher at Blue Ball Elementary School, has participated in TIC for four years. Although she teaches fourth grade today, she was a second grade teacher when she began working with the program.

“The day the eggs are delivered is an exciting one for students. They’re often amazed that the eggs come in a box delivered by UPS,” she said with a smile.

She agrees with Snavely in that students often look at fish as pets, so TIC opens up a different way of thinking to them.

“I’ve found students really value this program. It’s authentic — they’re the ones who care for the fish, and they take their stewardship seriously,” she said, “They also learn that people are part of the habitat, and what we do affects everything around us. So we also talk about being good stewards of our environment.”

Blue Ball Elementary students release their trout in Brubaker Run, which flows through Brubaker Park.

“It’s a place they’re familiar with, so there’s a connection for them,” Whitson said.

In previous years, the release was done on a Saturday, and it was a family event. She said she’s hoping that this year the release can occur during the school day so it can be a class activity.

“Before we made it a fun event for students and their families, but some students weren’t able to attend,” she explained. “If it becomes a class activity, every student can participate.”

Students in Rebecca Whitson’s classroom at Blue Ball Elementary show off their trout-based art projects. (Photos provided by Rebecca Whitson)

Whitson has also added a component from the national TIC program, where students design quilt patches and exchange them with other TIC classes across the country. They also become pen pals with some of the other schools.

“It’s a really neat way to share. We’ve learned about what other classes are doing, which gives students a bit larger perspective,” Whitson said, “In Alaska, they use salmon instead of brook trout; salmon is member of the trout family.”

Whitson has also worked with Lancaster County Conservancy to do an educational program at Climbers Run Nature Preserve in Pequea.

“The kids really loved the opportunity,” she said.

“Trout in the Classroom helps engage students. It’s an excellent opportunity to get kids to learn about their watershed. At Climber’s Run we enhance that with an outdoor experience,” said Lydia Martin, Lancaster County Conservancy director of education.

She said each year classes from Penn Manor’s Manor and Marticville middle schools visit Climbers Run for a full-day event.

Fingerling trout await release in a cooler. (Photo by Mark Kaiser)

Seventh graders

While the conservancy manages a number of preserves, most of which protect wild trout, Climbers Run, which is named for the native brook trout stream that flows through it, is different. Martin said most of the preserves offer passive recreation; what makes Climbers Run ideal for student experiences is the onsite educational center.

Mike Burcin has a perspective of TIC from a number of different angles. The former Martin Meylin Middle School principal worked in the Lampeter-Strasburg School District for 22 years and introduced the program in the middle school in 2005. After retiring from L-S, he went on to Lancaster County Conservancy. He began his career there as an education consultant as 2011 and went on to serve as director of education and then CEO/COO before stepping down in December 2015.

He implemented the program at L-S for seventh grade students during his tenure as middle school principal.

“I was interested in fishing, and the teacher was interested in fishing, so our common interest was a good starting point. TIC fit well with the life sciences curriculum,” Burcin said.

Hans Herr Elementary

TIC was experienced by seventh grade students for three years, before it was transferred to fifth grade students at Hans Herr Elementary School.

“The principal at Hans Herr was a fly fisherman. The water quality component of TIC is really important; it’s important for fisherman and it’s important for all of us,” Burcin explained, “The key ingredient of TIC’s success is an engaged teacher to take responsibility for the classroom program. It’s exciting for the kids to see the eggs arrive and to see the growth of the trout all the way to the release of the fingerlings.”

Burcin said the release of the trout was done in several ways. At Martin Meylin, a few students who were really interested in TIC participated in the release, while at Hans Herr the entire fifth grade took a day-long field trip to Millport Conservancy in Warwick Township and engaged in a variety of water quality activities as well as the release of the fingerling trout.

During Burcin’s stint at Lancaster County Conservancy, TIC was implemented at Martic Middle School and Manor Middle School in Penn Manor through Donegal Trout Unlimited.

“Native brook trout are endangered. With good work from Donegal Trout Unlimited in stream restoration, we’re helping to bring back native trout to the state,” Burcin stressed. “The key is getting young people interested, and TIC helps accomplish that.”

“TIC is a really nice program,” said Bushong. “We’d like to expand it and offer it to other classrooms, but we’re limited by our budget. It costs about $1,200 to start a classroom program.”

Recently, Donegal Trout Unlimited applied for and received a Campbell Foundation grant that will provide four new Trout in the Classroom programs in Lancaster County schools.

Rochelle Shenk is a correspondent for the Lititz Record Express. She welcomes your comments and questions at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *