BCS students reel in lessons with salmon release

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published May 13, 2015

BLOOMFIELD HILLS — As the old tune goes, “Fish gotta swim, and birds gotta fly.”

Third- and fourth-graders at Birmingham Covington School did their part last week to make sure that there will be fish swimming in Michigan lakes and streams for years to come.

The students in Erica Maliszewski and Kim Davis’ class have been raising 180 Chinook salmon since last November as part of a class project. About 200 fertilized salmon eggs were received from a hatchery in Mattawan, Michigan, and were brought to the school to be cared for through the school year. Several hundred schools around the state participated in similar programs, devised by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Maliszewski said the students were able to watch the fish grow and change as the months went on, teaching them important aspects of biological life cycles, what organisms need to thrive in their habitats and more.

“We just thought it would be a really good project-based learning opportunity,” she said, adding that the PTSA raised funds for and approved the project.

Davis was on vacation up state with her family when she learned about the DNR’s Salmon Education Program. She immediately reached out to Maliszewski, who agreed that they should try to bring the curriculum to BCS.

And boy, are the kids glad they did. Even now that the fish are gone, the students can’t help but get excited when they talk about their watery friends.

“We got eyed eggs, but the absolute first stage of their life cycle is the green egg,” said Youssef Kamal, 9.

Audrey Adams, 10, explained that after the eyed eggs comes alevin stage — as newly hatched fish — then the fry stage and the smolt stage.

Though the salmon would grow to maturity beyond that, the smolt stage is where the salmon and the students parted ways. The classes took a field trip to Riverside Park in Auburn Hills to bid farewell to the fish and release them into the wild in the Clinton River. That’s where the fish will begin their trek to Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie, before they return in about three years to lay eggs in the same place they were released.

“We had to release them so they can go make a new generation and won’t go extinct,” said Matthew Windsor, 10.

“In the wild, they’ll help sea life and help keep all that underwater stuff alive,” said Eloise Roberts, 10.

It’s no secret what the kids learned about science from the project, but Davis said the hidden lessons were cleverly tucked into the day-to-day maintenance of caring for the fish.

“The tank is so much maintenance; they usually only do this project with high school students. But we had the kids changing the water and tracking the levels,” she said. “They really learned a lot from this, which is so concrete compared to whatever they could study in the books. There’s responsibility and independence involved in caring for them, and even harder lessons; some of the eggs didn’t hatch, and some of the ones that did didn’t make it. That’s tough, and it really makes that connection in a different way.”

She added that tough conversations like water pollution and consumerism — as in the potential for their fish to one day end up on dinner plates — were natural parts of the process.

“They accepted it,” Davis said. “But now those issues like ‘what’s going into our water’ were a little more important to them.”

On the day of release, Mike Palmer, owner of Premier Pet Supply in Beverly Hills, was on hand to help put the fish in cups so kids could take them down to the water’s edge for release. After donating much of the tank equipment and selling the rest to the school at cost, he was excited to see the project come to fruition.

“I felt like a kid myself. It was just a lot of fun to know you’re having a hand in something like that and being tied into nature,” he said. “The kids took a lot of pride in the fact that they were there before the eggs hatched and now they were putting them into (the water). I’ll never forget that experience and the fact that they included me in the release; I was so glad to be a part of the process.”