It started with just three schools, one of which was Glenvar High School. Now, five years later, the Trout in the Classroom (TIC) program has taken hold in the Roanoke Valley, boasting 25 participating schools and thousands of brook trout released into the wild each year. Participating students will release their fingerlings at several points along the Roanoke River, as well as in Roaring Run and Glade Creek.
“The whole purpose is to provide an educational opportunity to the students,” said Bill Bainter, president of the Roanoke chapter of Trout Unlimited, the organization that works with the schools to make the Trout in the Classroom program such a success.
Three elementary schools, 17 middle schools and five high schools are participating in the release this year. In the Salem area, those schools are Salem High School, Andrew Lewis Middle School, Glenvar High School and Glenvar Middle School.
“I love it,” said Perry Manning, who teaches sixth grade science at ALMS. This is his fourth year participating in the TIC program. “This is one of the best things I’ve ever done, as far as [my lessons] being connected to the real world.”
The Trout in the Classroom program checks many of the boxes for the students’ SOLs, according to Bainter. Teachers in elementary levels can use the program to teach things like life cycles, while teachers at the secondary levels can teach their students about energy issues, water quality, carrying capacity and even mutations and genetic variations.
Oftentimes, the batch will include a two-headed trout, according to Charlie Filer and Dave Mueller, Glenvar High School biology and special education teachers, respectively.
They also might learn something about survival skills in the wild. For instance, last year Manning’s batch of trout included one fish that was much larger than the other fish. So large, in fact, that he would eat the smaller fish.
“We called him Jaws,” Manning said. The students asked if they should just remove the larger fish, but Manning decided against it. Having the large fish in the tank was a way to “teach the other fish to avoid a predator.”
Survival of the fittest aside, the biggest lesson Bainter, the teachers and the rest of the Trout Unlimited folks hope the students learn is about water conservation and sustainability.
The program teaches the students “how fragile the environment is, and how important it is to protect it so all creatures can sustain life,” said Manning. “The goal is to help the kids to become better stewards of the environment.”
“The water for the trout to survive must be almost pure,” said Jon Wilson, a member of the executive board of Trout Unlimited, and manager and vice president at John M. Oakey & Son Funeral Home in Salem. “It has to be a certain temperature, it has to be kept clean, the students have to maintain the chemicals. It teaches the children that if the trout can’t survive, we probably shouldn’t be drinking the water.”
Wilson recalls what he considers the most rewarding experience from his time working with the schools.
“I worked hands on with teaching a young student with a learning disability—what they thought were speech problems,” Wilson said. “He immediately latched onto this program. He worked with me to help build nets for the eggs. This program brought him out of his shell. He became vocal and hands on—he participated. That whole year he was responsible for looking after the tank. Something so simple changed his life.”
The releases dates this year are scheduled for April 9-12 and April 16-19. Check back at www.sosalem.com for photos from the releases.