At home, Koen Unangst helps take care of the family dog. At school, he helps take care of nearly 200 newly hatched salmon. So the Pine Ridge Elementary fourth-grader speaks from experience when he says “taking care of a dog is way easier than this.”
“This” is Salmon in the Classroom, a year-long Michigan Department of Natural Resources program that provides grants to schools that sign on to care for fertilized eggs until they can be released as young salmon into local rivers. Several Forest Hills schools are participating this year, and it’s Pine Ridge’s second year.
Taking care of them is a process that takes daily monitoring, so it’s a good thing Koen likes “all things salmon-y,” he said.
On a recent morning, Koen and classmate Anna Thornburg showed a visitor how they test the water quality in the 55-gallon tank, record the results they will report to the DNR and add fresh water from 5-gallon plastic jugs it takes both of them to lift.
“I like doing this because it makes me feel responsible,” Anna said. “And it’s fun to see them grow.”
Salmon that make it to the late April release date will measure from 3 to 5 inches and will be put in the Thornapple River, teacher Liz Miller said. Just before the holiday break, only about 10 had died — you can tell for certain because they turn a milky white color.
Last year, 25 salmon made it to the release.
Grow and Release
The program teaches students about the life history of fish, natural resources conservation and the importance of the Great Lakes and fishing to Michigan culture. “They love it,” Miller said. “It gets them thinking about real-life situations, and they get very attached to the fish. They want them all to make it to the release.”
Miller said the school has tried to align the project with as many educational standards as they can, including reading and non-fiction writing via student blogs.