LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – “The children talk to the fish,” said Dee Desmond. “You will probably see some today who’ll say ‘I love you.’”
The day was April 12 at a stream on Montesol Ranch in south Lake County. And what the children – 17 first-through-third graders from elementary schools in the area – were saying to the fish, tiny trout known as “fry,” amounted to a fond farewell.
They had become genuinely attached to the little fellas “during a period of closely watched incubation at their schools, supervised by teachers Lisa Guerrero and Kathleen Place over the last several weeks.
And now the children were releasing them into a suitable habitat, just as grade school students in the East Lake Resource Conservation District have been doing for more than 20 years.
That’s how long “Trout in the Classroom,” a program designed to provide a direct connection between children and their living environment, has functioned in south Lake County, which is part of the East Lake district.
Dee Desmond and her husband, Dan, took over management of the program in Lake County this year when Dwight Holford, who brought it here, retired and left the area.
The program’s national roots have been traced to 1986. It operates in concert with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
In addition to the Trout in the Classroom’s in the East Lake District, a program in the West Lake district has been created and is coordinated by Tony Blyleven. The West Lake program had a similar release this past Saturday.
In Lake County, Trout in the Classroom programs are currently operating in Middletown, Lakeport and Konocti Unified School districts. There is no program in the Upper Lake district, but Dan Desmond says he would help get one started if a teacher in the district could coordinate with him.
Teachers tailor programs to fit their curriculum. Each program includes interdisciplinary applications in science, social studies, math, language arts, fine arts and physical education.
Dan and Dee, both retired teachers, had much to do with organizing this year’s East Lake program, securing the fertile trout eggs – 32 for each classroom – from the Department of Fish & Wildlife’s fish wildlife hatchery in Yountville, purchasing classroom aquarium equipment and performing as liaison to the public.
“Fish and Wildlife feels (Trout in the Classroom) is the only way to truly see the trout in a really meaningful way,” says Dan. “These kids develop a relationship with the fish and learn to understand their biological development as they grow into adults.
“The students become stewards of wild and aquatic life,” he added.
That's thanks largely to teachers like Guerrero, who’s leaving the program after seven years to serve in other areas of the ecosystem.
In terms of trout, there is perhaps no more critical time than the present for teaching children stewardship.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has listed the steelhead in parts of Northern California among the species threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.
So Trout in the Classroom fits within a basic equation: Increase the future trout population by increasing the number of children who can ensure that growth when they grow up.
Email John Lindblom at firstname.lastname@example.org .