Grandparents get a hands-on lesson in salmon’s circle of life

March 27, 2012

By Dan Aznoff

Jerry Pearson and his grandson Dylan Pearson, 5, release salmon fry into Issaquah Creek March 21 under the Northwest Sammamish Road crossover with other Issaquah School District classroom students, teachers and parents. By Greg Farrar

Five-year-old Dylan Pearson took extra care as he crept his way across the rocks under the watchful eye of his PeePah to the edge of the creek to release the young salmon fry swimming at the bottom of his plastic cup.

Participating in the life cycle of the salmon was an important lesson that Dylan’s grandfather, Issaquah native Jerry Pearson, wanted to teach his grandson. Pearson can still remember the salmon spawning in Lewis Creek near his home when he was the same age as his grandson.

“Sharing this moment and the lessons we learn about the renewal of life are things that I will never forget,” Jerry Pearson said. “Hopefully, the salmon will inspire Dylan to nurture new life and then set it free.”

The youngster and his grandfather joined third-graders from Apollo Elementary School on March 21 to release more than 230 small coho salmon that were raised from eggs in their classroom into Issaquah Creek behind Pickering Barn. Many students were sad; others cheered as they watched the tiny fish swim away.

“This is so exciting,” 9-year-old Camryn Creed said as she walked back to get a second fry. “We see the big salmon swim upstream every fall to lay their eggs. Now I know where those big ones came from.”

Camryn’s grandmother Shirley Stubbs made the drive up from Kent to watch the release with her granddaughter. Stubbs said she has taken her granddaughter to streams and rivers in Renton and Issaquah to witness what she described as the “miracle of life.”

Third-grader Allyson Marus named her tiny fish George. She walked out on the small spit of rocks before kneeling down to set him free.

She called out to her fish as he was swept away by the current.

“Good-bye, George,” she said. “I’ll see you back here in three years.”

Dylan named his tiny fish Fast Joe. His grandfather responded by calling his Slow Mo.

This could be the last year for the Salmon in the Classroom project in the Issaquah School District unless the state Legislature reverses its decision to cut the unit out of the state budget. Lawmakers have estimated that eliminating the program will save $442,000 during the upcoming two-year budget cycle.

“It’s just not right,” teacher Lauren Molnar said as she passed cups to each of the eager children. “My students have learned so much about science — and about life — during this unit. The kids love watching the eggs hatch and seeing them grow. It has been an incredibly valuable lesson for everybody.”

The third-grade teacher said Salmon in the Classroom provides elementary school students the hands-on experience of caring for coho salmon eggs until they are released into local streams to begin the three-year cycle of migrating downstream to the Puget Sound, and then return to spawn a new generation. Molnar expressed her gratitude to the local business owner who stepped up to sponsor the Salmon in the Classroom program at Apollo Elementary.

Dylan’s PeePah and his MeeMah donated enough money to maintain the program at Clark Elementary, where Jerry attended school in the early 1960s. They both became involved with the program after reading about the $5.1 million shortfall in the state budget for education.

“It’s important for kids to know that the salmon are an important part of the culture here in the Northwest,” Jerry Pearson said. “Today was our own little circle of life. There is so much we can learn from studying the life cycle of the salmon.

“For example, it is always good to come home,” he said with a smile.

Pearson and his grandson were joined on the blustery afternoon behind Pickering Barn by his wife Michele and Dylan’s father Sean Pearson. The elder Pearson remembered bailing hay on the Pickering property as a boy.

He and Michele are partners in the legal firm Pearson Law on Snoqualmie Ridge.

Dan Aznoff was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the toxic waste crisis in California. He is now a freelance writer who makes his home in Bellevue. Reach him at da@dajournalist.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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