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Trout in the Classroom gives kids hands-on lessons in conservation and science

by on February 22, 2018 9:21 AM

SNOW SHOE — Ask the kids in Mrs. Gugliocciello’s class at Mountaintop Area Elementary School about the inhabitants of the 55-gallon tank in the back of their classroom, and you’ll get an earful. 

The first thing you’ll hear about is the two-headed fish. Then, they’ll tell you exactly how many brook trout fingerlings are swimming around in there (121), how many eggs they started with in November (200), how cold the water must be to keep the fish comfortable (53 degrees) and how the fish have changed in appearance over the past three months.

These fourth-graders are participants in the Trout in the Classroom program, an initiative made possible through a partnership between the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and the Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited. Through the initiative, participating classrooms receive brook trout eggs from the Benner Springs Hatchery in State College and raise them in a carefully monitored environment until they are fingerlings (about the size of an adult human finger). In the spring, the fish are released into a local stream.

Teacher Christina Gugliocciello said the program fits in nicely with the school’s new science curriculum and the study of life cycles.
“This program is allowing the kids to have this hands-on experience and to get to really observe wildlife up close. It helps them to understand and see it all a little better when they have little lifeforms to study,” she said.

“We touch upon genes and characteristics, too. Where normally kids might look and say, ‘Oh, those are fish, they all have spots,’ these kids are noticing all of the little differences. So we’ve got some very dark and distinctive fish, some are much lighter, some are larger than others — so, we talk about the variety of genes they see,” Gugliocciello said. “We even had conjoined twins— a two-headed fish that did not survive much longer than Thanksgiving. Of course, the kids were really amazed by that.”

This is Gugliocciello’s first year participating in TIC, and she said the program is teaching the kids about more than just science. She is hoping they are learning life lessons about responsibility and caring for the environment.

“We talk about how it’s everyone’s responsibility to keep the trout safe. At first some of the kids wanted to play in the water, so we had to talk about how that could affect the fish in a negative way. I hope that they carry that with them when they are out in the world, and that they are going to think, ‘How am I affecting the quality of the environment for other creatures?’ Hopefully, this will get them to be a little more aware of that.”

Gugliociello’s classroom is one of six local TIC participants sponsored by the Spring Creek Chapter of Trout Unlimited. Other tanks can be found at Bald Eagle Area High School, Bellefonte Middle School, Penns Valley Middle School, the Delta Program in the State College Area School District and in the lobby of the State College Family YMCA.

According to Amidea Daniel of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, there are 355 Pennsylvania classrooms participating in the program during the 2017-18 school year. Part of a large national program, TIC became a statewide initiative in Pennsylvania back in 2008, and focuses on brook trout because it is the state fish and the only trout native to Pennsylvania.

Judi Sittler, outreach and youth education co-chairman of the Spring Creek Trout Unlimited chapter, said each tank costs more than $1,200 to set up and maintain. Teachers who wish to participate in the program can apply for grants through the Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited, and also can be supported by local organizations. Most recently, Sittler said, the Centre County chapter of 100 Plus Women Who Care made a significant donation to the program, which will help local classrooms with maintenance or with possibly setting up a tank for a new classroom.

In addition to obtaining funding, Sittler said, teachers who want to participate in the program for the first time are required to take a training course in June. They receive help and support from members of the local Trout Unlimited chapter.

“We go into the classroom to help with set-up,” Sittler said, “and we try to visit the classroom at least once. We don’t need to be too hands-on, because the teachers are so competent. But we’re there to help anytime.”

Gugliociello’s class is planning a field trip to Milesburg in April, where they will release the surviving fingerlings into the Bald Eagle Creek. She asked the class if they thought her class should participate in the program again next year, and they replied in unison with a unanimous “Yes!”

Gugliociello agreed.

“It’s a wonderful program, and a wonderful partnership with Trout Unlimited. I can’t think of any negatives. Next year, I’d like to delve into it even deeper.” 

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