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From the classroom to the creek

The survivors are few. One in 100 fry released into the wild will return to Clear Creek, but the lessons learned while raising the salmon last a lifetime.

Michelle Johnson, whose son Codie is a second-grader at Peace Lutheran, remembers releasing salmon when she was a child. It was 1985 and she was a fifth-grader at Seabeck Elementary.

“It was the neatest thing,” she said remembering what it was like to watch the fish swim into Clear Creek. Monday she watched as her son’s class took their cups to the creek’s bank and dumped the fish in.

“They get to see the whole circle of life of a salmon,” she said.

Unfortunately many of Monday’s fish ended up as food for the cutthroat trout. The food chain at work, though disheartening, is yet another lesson the students learn with “Salmon in the Classroom.”

The Kiwanis-sponsored Salmon in the Classroom project enters its 17th year and this month thousands of new chum salmon will be released to the wild.

More the 30 aquariums in 26 schools have hatched salmon eggs and March 17-April 16 students are making the pilgrimage to the creek. Kiwanis Club of Central Kitsap members supervise the releases and estimate more than 10,000 fish have been raised in classrooms during the past 17 years.

“What’s really exciting is that this is a lot more than an aquarium with some fish in it. Working with teachers in the schools, we teach the kids about the entire life cycle of the salmon, the stream habitat they need to survive, and some of the history and culture of Clear Creek,” said Sam Holcomb, supervisor for the project and a long-time volunteer.

“We want to instill a sense of pride and ownership in keeping their environment capable of sustaining fish and other wildlife,” he said.

Cougar Valley fourth-graders will learn that lesson Friday. In January the salmon eggs, which are donated by the Suquamish Tribe, arrive in the classrooms. During the past few months the students have faithfully changed the fish tank’s water every day, and jotted down their observation of the salmon eggs in their books.

“They’re real excited to watch the fish grow,” said Donna Gordon, one of three fourth-grade teachers participating in the program. The most valuable lesson she and Barbara Stark, also a fourth-grade teacher, said is learning to be good stewards of the environment.

“The fish is the bait so to speak,” said Bruce Van Wouldenberg, also a Kiwanis member and project supervisor. He supervised the salmon release station Monday as groups of Peace Lutheran students funneled through. Three other stations were part of the two-hour field trip including planting a tree, testing the water quality and looking at stream bugs. All are integral to the salmon’s survival.

“It’s a real thrill to see the salmon return each year and know there are kids out there that have a better understanding of the environmental conditions that make this possible,” Van Woundenberg said.

Volunteers are still needed to supervise the field trips. For information or to help out contact Van Woudenberg at (360) 697-1026.

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