Bear Creek Elementary students hike down to Bear Creek to release their salmon fry.
Photo by Wendy Walsh/Woodinville Weekly.
by Wendy Walsh
The entire student body at Bear Creek Elementary gathered Apr. 10 around the walkways over the small stream which runs through the school grounds for the fourth annual Spring Salmon Release.
There was a ceremony in which students read essays about the life of the salmon, and the countdown began with all the students shouting: "Ten, Nine, Eight," until the time of release.
The sixth graders assisted the first graders in carefully pouring paper cups, each containing four salmon, into the stream. In all, 400 Coho salmon fingerlings were added to the Bear Creek stream system.
The event was inspired by teacher Louise Hatala, who said she saw this as a unique way of combining biology and science and creative writing for her class, as well as contributing to the environment. The program, however, involves a great deal of teamwork. The Hatchery Project begins in November and involves three sixth grade classes and their parents.
Volunteer parent John Schmied signed up as project leader and helped organize the team and identify project needs and goals. It turned out to be a unique cooperative enterprise among parents, teachers, and students, in which interdependency co-existed in quality assurance of the project's success. "If one person fails, we all fail," Schmied said.
In November, the Coho salmon are acquired from the Issaquah Hatchery and transferred to the Bear Creek Elementary Hatchery. A license from Olympia is required to run the school hatchery. Rearing salmon is very tricky. Daily monitoring of temperature, pH, and nitrates is only a part of the care. This means that students and parent volunteers must tend the hatchery every day from November to April, weekends and holidays included.
Susan Limprecht had the challenging job of coordinating the 10 parent volunteers who worked with the students daily. The parents are not allowed to do the work, but do oversee the students' monitoring and advise.
Hatchery failure is common and unpredictable, which is why monitoring is so important. This year only 100 fingerlings were lost, which is considered a high rate of success.
Throughout the project, the hatchery monitoring is combined with classwork, where students learn the importance of chemical balance in ecosystem management, species' lifecycles, and interaction with other biological elements such as plants over the streams. Essay writing is also an important part of the project.
At the end of the project, the sixth grade meets with the first grade and teaches the younger children how to release the tiny salmon into the stream. The first graders will be in the fifth grade when these salmon return to spawn, so the students will experience the whole cycle.
Last fall would have been the first year the salmon from the initial project would return. Unfortunately, the entire run on the Bear Creek stream system was very minimal, so no salmon were seen in the stream at school.
Two sixth graders were asked what they had learned from this project. "We have learned about the life cycle of the salmon and how fragile the process of raising healthy salmon really is," Matthew Phillips and Margaret Tatgart said.