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Schools of learning

Sunnyside fifth graders learn about fish life cycle

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Students in Susan Garrison's fifth grade class release salmon eggs into a tank just outside their classroom. The tank is part of a program that allows classrooms to farm salmon and learn about their environment at the same time.

Monday was an exciting day for Susan Garrison and Michele Wiederspohn's fifth grade classrooms.

The tiny, red Late Fall Chinook eggs the students had been watching for the past month finally made it to the next stage. They became Alevins, the second stage of development for salmon.

The life of these 100 Alevins is under a microscope at Chief Kamakin Elementary School. The students have the opportunity to take a peek at a process that often isn't seen, but is part of nature as salmon grow and develop and go out to sea.

"It was so much fun to lift up the paper and see they were hatched," said Wiederspohn.

Although the tank, which has sheets of paper taped to it to keep the fish's environment dark, is outside the door of Garrison's classroom, the raising of hatchery salmon has become a project that has drawn the interest from classes around the school.

"Other classes come and observe the fish, so it's not just my class," said Garrison.

The Yakima Basin Environmental Education Program received a grant to have a college science student work with English as a second language students in the school to learn about the life cycle of salmon.

What Garrison's students have learned already from the project has proven invaluable, she believes.

"They've done a lot with real world graphing and real world math skills," said Garrison, explaining that the concepts are sparked in the minds of the students in real life situations. She added that reading and writing skills have also been honed in the project.

"I love these projects when they apply all their skills," said Garrison.

Students graph chemical testing of the water and study the stages of development as the eggs.

Garrison first learned about the project of putting salmon in classrooms this past summer when attending a Partners for Arid Land Stewardship conference. At first she wasn't sure her class would be able to have a salmon spawning project because the program lacked funding, but after much advocating, the South Yakima Conservation District adopted the project, paying for the equipment needed.

"Dave DeBoer brought the tank in and set it up," she said.

Since last November the students anxiously awaited the day they would be able to put their eggs in the water and watch them develop. The eggs weren't released into the tank until Jan. 4.

The first two months were spent treating the water so the fish could survive.

"Once the water sits for a while it clears itself up," said Garrison. Nutrients were also added to the water.

The fish raising project ties into the class's lessons on eco-systems and the environment, said Garrison, who likes to emphasize science in her classroom.

Before the salmon eggs touched the water, the students were able to discuss the life cycle of salmon, but now they are studying the environmental effect on them.

Jessie Leija, one of Garrison's students, said as the eggs developed they could see the eye and spine through the red yolk sack. He can tell inquirers about the process a salmon goes through, from eggs to smolts when they go out to the ocean.

"I hope this gives them more of an appreciation for the environment and what they can do to help," said Garrison.

Water quality testing is one of the processes the students have to study.

"They're more aware of the different things that will impact salmon in the real world," she said.

The students are enjoying the different lessons they are learning from their small project.

"I'm learning that first the salmon are little red balls and after a month the tail comes out and then two or three days later the whole body comes out. All that's left is the yolk sack," said Edgar Aguilar, adding that the yolk sack is what feeds the young fish.

He added that the best part was when the salmon eggs arrived. For many of the students, like Jessica Ramos, this is their first time around fish. Ramos, who has taken a particularly strong interest in the salmon project, said she finds it interesting that the young fish feed on their yolk sack, adding that the more they eat the smaller the sack will become.

"The best part is when we get to observe the tank," she said. "I don't want to release them."

Garrison's classroom isn't the only one in the Lower Valley to be participating in the program. Sixth graders in the same school also have a tank for salmon, as do classrooms in Grandview. All of the classrooms will release their fish at Horn Rapids in Benton City this spring.

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