Issaquah schools face end of Salmon in the Classroom program

December 25, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

NEW — 6 a.m. Dec. 25, 2010

The salmon — or, more specifically, salmon eggs — return to a Clark Elementary School classroom each year.

But fourth- and fifth-grade teacher Liza Rickey could face a change in the curriculum next month: the end of the Salmon in the Classroom program.

In the program, students raise salmon, learn about water quality and salmon habitat, and discover the relationship between Issaquah Creek and Puget Sound.

State legislators eliminated dollars for the program in a round of budget cuts during the Dec. 11 special session. The program is a casualty of cuts as state leaders face a gaping budget hole.

“It’s such a worthy project for the kids to see,” Rickey said. “It’s hands on, it’s real world. It’s a very important resource in our area, and now it’s not even available for them to experience in that way.”

The state used federal dollars to fund Salmon in the Classroom, but the funding has been shifted to other fish and wildlife programs.

The end of Salmon in the Classroom caught Rickey and other teachers in the program by surprise.

Some teachers had already picked up salmon eggs for the program. Rickey had secured a permit from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to raise the salmon, before she learned about the cut from Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery Executive Director Gestin Suttle. (Rickey planned to pick up eggs from the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery after winter break.)

Department of Fish and Wildlife Program Manager Christy Vassar about 400 to 500 schools statewide participated in the program per year.

“There was no heads up,” Rickey said. “I got the permit without any problem whatsoever. I didn’t get any papers or e-mails or anything that this might be coming down the way.”

The salmon program is part of a yearlong water ecology unit at Clark and is integrated into the science-and-technology curriculum.

Sunset Elementary School has also participated in the program. Students raised the eggs to fry and released the salmon into Lewis Creek.

The salmon education extends beyond the classroom at Clark. Students raised $2,000 and donated the money to FISH for a display at the downtown hatchery last year.

“Science is my passion. It’s my background. I feel very, very strongly about it,” she said. “When I had the opportunity to start this program, it was a perfect fit for me.”

So, Rickey set up a 50-gallon tank in the classroom — purchased for a deal on craigslist — and then used the hands-on program to teach fourth- and fifth-graders to care for the eggs and fledgling fish.

“Once they’re trained, the kids totally run it,” she said.

Then, in the spring, Rickey and the students journey to Issaquah Creek and release the fish. The field trip includes water-quality testing.

The end of Salmon in the Classroom is “going to be really upsetting to the kids,” she added.

Rickey hopes the program can continue in some way for Clark students, perhaps through field trips to the downtown hatchery to examine tiny fish.

“It’s definitely not going to be as meaningful, because we’ll have to take a field trip to monitor them,” she said.

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3 Responses to “Issaquah schools face end of Salmon in the Classroom program”

  1. James Harvey on December 25th, 2010 8:38 am

    I don’t understand why, if teachers did this in past years and kept whatever materials they received, they can’t repeat the program in this and future years. Call the hatchery, go get some salmon eggs, teach from the materials you have…

  2. Robert Rhoads on December 25th, 2010 9:22 am

    I do not fault either political party. Both sideshave their priorities How sad that
    it is our children, our future, have to suffer.

  3. Ben Starkey on December 25th, 2010 1:48 pm

    I have administered a salmon-in-the-classroom project for the past three years, and have the same question as James H: what cost are they cutting? Are they simply refusing to give over 300 salmon eggs? Because that’s the only “cost” our project has ever imposed on the state. We fund everything else, having started with a 50-gallon tank from craigslist, same as Rickey.

    I think there’s something else going on. Perhaps they don’t believe the survivability of the fry we release is as good as that from the state hatchery and there’s some political wrangling over the cost of THAT program. I cannot believe that the classroom projects are the problem, however.

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