Bart Carter of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency talks to Roosevelt students about the importance of clean streams for the trout raised by the class. Photo by David Grace.
KINGSPORT — The South Fork of the Holston River will have about 20 future inhabitants thanks to a city elementary class and Trout Unlimited.
Life skills class students from Roosevelt Elementary School, with a little help from other students and the Cherokee Chapter of Trout Unlimited, released the trout the class grew from eggs in a classroom tank. The fish were released into Kendrick Creek, which flows into the Holston just downstream from the Fort Patrick Henry Dam. The Friday release was with the permission and cooperation of property owner Danny Shupe.
“Our kids can do these things. People don’t give them enough credit,” said Morgan Saunders, the first-year life skills teacher at Roosevelt.
Saunders said she pursued the TU project after learning about it through her husband, who is friends with a TU member, and had the full support of Principal Mike Fulkerson.
“With special education, you can do the sensory integration,” Saunders said of the eight third-, fourth- and fifth-graders in her class,
Other project-based learning ventures include a planned spring trip to the Small Miracles Therapeutic Horseback Riding Center in the Rock Springs community of Sullivan County and building a sustainable butterfly garden.
Saunders said she believes such activities are important, especially at Title 1 schools like Roosevelt, where about 80 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.
On Thursday, the class painted trout on yellow T-shirts, which she and the students wore Friday.
Kayla Reynolds, 9, said her favorite part of the project until Friday was a fresh water habitat study the class did on a trip to the lake at Bays Mountain Park.
Cheyenne Johnson, mother of Christopher Simmons, 11, said she sees marked improvement in her son this year and attributed that to the class activities.
“He’s very exited. He just showed me the trout,” Johnson said.
“He loves to meet people,” she said. “He talks a lot more than he ever has.”
Mark Procopio, vice president of the Cherokee Chapter of TU, said his group works with Tennessee schools from Morristown east, throughout Northeast Tennessee.
Current projects include ones at Robinson Middle School, the Kingsport Boys and Girls Club, Northside Elementary in Johnson City and one in Morristown. Last year’s projects included one at Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee.
The group also works with a program serving St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital patients at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“This is part of the Five Rivers Project that Trout Unlimited has established,” Procopio said of the Trout in the Classroom program. He said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency monitor the releases, although he said the school releases are small enough that they likely would not upset an ecosystem or cause other problems.
The Roosevelt class started earlier this year with a fish tank and used it to hatch the eggs. Water temperature is kept at about 55 degrees.
Of 120 eggs in the beginning, about 20 survived and matured into the roughly gold fish size trout released Friday.
Saunders said that the fourth grade at Roosevelt also got involved in the project, which the whole school population had the chance to see.
Fourth-graders helped with the release and accompanied the life skills students, as did four students from special education teacher Michael Sheffield from Bristol, Tenn.
Sheffield said his class at Vance Middle School and a group of 130 fourth-graders at Avoca Elementary school will have the Trout in the Classroom program next year, culminating in the April release of the fish.
And Saunders’ class at Roosevelt also plans a second trout program and release in April.