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Classroom project lets students tend tank of trout

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Students in Debra O'Dell's special needs class at Herbert Hoover High School are doing their part to improve the state's trout population.

Six students ranging in age from 15 to 19 tend a 50-gallon aquarium in their classroom that is stocked with inch-long trout to be released into a stream on May 16.

O'Dell believes the trout will be twice their current size upon release. They arrived at the school in the form of eggs.

The classroom project was undertaken with assistance from the West Virginia Council of Trout Unlimited, which has seven chapters and about 1,600 members who form a volunteer network.

The mission of the group is to conserve, protect and restore the state's trout population and watersheds. The mission is pursued through advocacy, research, habitat improvement, fingerling stocking and relocation, youth and community educational activities, and cooperation and partnerships with state and federal agencies, the private sector and other conservation groups.

For the classroom at Herbert Hoover, the group provided all equipment as well as the eggs that would become trout, said Diana Winnell, classroom aide.

She said volunteers from Trout Unlimited set up the tank, tested the water and brought eggs in on ice. A basket holding the eggs hung on the side of the tank until they hatched and became tiny fish for release into the tank.

Then it was up to the students to feed the fish, monitor the tank and keep everything clean.

Students managing the effort include Colleen Withrow, 19; Heather Shafer, 17; Codey Buzzard, 18; Cody Shaffer, 15; Erica Mullins, 18; and Marcus Walker, 18.

The students also have a greenhouse set up in the classroom, and seeds are sprouting into plants such as peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes. Already sprouting in a garden in back of the school are peas, carrots, onions and radishes. The students found a few worms in the garden and fed these to the fish.

O'Dell is proud of her students, who also work in the community at jobs such as stocking shelves, sweeping parking lots, or washing and wrapping produce.   

"They are really a good group of kids," O'Dell said.

On May 16, the students will go on a field trip to release the trout and celebrate with a picnic.

Jack Williams, past president and current member of the Kanawha Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited, heads the local program for Trout in the Classroom.

Plans are in the works to change the name of the chapter to the Ernie Nester Chapter of Trout Unlimited in honor of a founder of the group who recently passed away.

Williams has been part of the program since it was formed in the 1970s. The program has been funded through grants, and some schools have purchased their own equipment, he said.  

His chapter has 24 schools involved in Kanawha and neighboring counties and more are on a waiting list. He said students learn the value of teamwork, responsibility, record keeping, chemistry, math and cooperation.  Students who may hesitate to participate in other activities often become curious and enthusiastic about this experience, he said.   

"Its an interactive learning program about more than the fish," he said.

Go to www.troutintheclassroom.org or email jackwilliams814@gmail.com for more information.    

Contact writer Charlotte Ferrell Smith at charlotte@dailymail.com or 304-348-1246.

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