Cool Schools: River Valley students raising salmon in the classroom

Cool Schools: River Valley students raising salmon in the classroom


Students in the River Valley School District are getting an inside look at the outdoors by raising salmon inside their classrooms.

“We’re trying to get as many outside and real-life experiences for our kids as possible,” said Patrick Zuccala, the principal at Three Oaks Elementary. “These fish are actually wild salmon eggs from the Manistee River up north.”

Zuccala is a new principal at the school this year, and says the salmon in the classroom program was something he immediately wanted to do.

After some training from the Michigan DNR and sponsorship from the Southwest Michigan Steelheaders, the district was able to purchase three tanks for this school year. In total, there are more than 400 salmon growing right inside the classroom.

“Students are actually fortunate enough to be going through the exact same process that some of the DNR fish hatcheries go through in order to stock fish in the great lakes," said Zuccala.

The lessons flowing from the tanks are nearly endless. Younger grades learn about life cycles, feeding, and environmental issues.

“I think the salmon are really cute,” said Keio Trimm, a 4th grade student at Three Oaks Elementary.

In high school the lessons get a little more advanced.

“I think it’s a really special opportunity,” said Josh Clark, a senior at River Valley High School. “We’ve been testing the water and learning about the environmental impacts that we have on the water and on the fish.”

Zuccala says the program uses a lot of social studies, science, and STEM all while connecting kids with the local environment.

Mark Gallagher, now a kindergarten teacher at Chikaming Elementary says that connection to the environment is something he’s passionate about. He’s helped get the program started in several local schools.

“The kids absolutely just find this amazing that these little eggs that were sitting in the bottom of the tank that you could barely see are now swimming,” said Gallagher.

“It gives you an appreciation for the beauty of our state, the beauty of our area, and the business that commercial fishing has in our area,” said Zuccala. “We feel like we’re contributing not only to the natural environment but we’re also contributing to help people maintain the economic activities that we have.”

For some students, it even means a jump-start on a future career.

“This is pretty much what I want to go to school for so it’s a really special opportunity, I’m really glad I was able to have it,” said Clark.

The lesson will come full circle in a few months. The district has a release day planned for the spring to release the fish into a local river that flows into Lake Michigan.

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