TOWNSEND, Tenn. (AP) — Zeb Boshears is proud of all he knows about fish, but even he learned a few things Thursday morning when he and his classmates received a very hands-on lesson beside the Little River in Townsend.
Since last September students in Heritage High School’s Comprehensive Development Classroom have been feeding rainbow trout being raised in a tank. “It’s been a good responsibility,” said special education teacher Keperly Camet.
When 200 rainbow trout eggs arrived last fall, science teacher David Wietlisbach took a microscope from the lab to the CDC classroom for a close look.
Since the students had just finished a lesson on the planets, Camet said, the fish egg reminded them of Mars.
“They can actually see the embryo inside the egg,” Wietlisbach explained. With the orange eye spot, he said, “to me it almost looks like Jupiter.”
The 10 CDC students took turns feeding the fish every morning, while Wietlisbach’s students monitored tank conditions, testing for chemicals and changing water or making adjustments when needed.
To keep the tank from being too crowded Wietlisbach released some fish earlier, but this week it was time to place the 80 or so remaining fry in the river.
Because not all of Camet’s students could walk to the water’s edge, they went to the Special People’s Park in Townsend, which has a wheelchair ramp. A section from a previous hydroponic agriculture setup at the HHS greenhouse became a water slide for students to pour the fish down into the water.
Seated later at picnic tables the students had an opportunity to see and even touch many of the species of fish that also live in the Little River, with help from Matt Kulp, supervisory fish biologist for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The students felt the teeth inside a trout, the hard cartilage a stoneroller uses to scrape algae off rocks and the tongue of a redline darter.
Kulp also showed them the differences among a saffron shiner, which he explained looks like it wears lipstick; a telescope shiner, which has large eyes; and the Tennessee shiner, with a triangle mark. They held a banded sculpin too.
When Kulp asked the students to name their favorite fish, Zeb replied, “My favorite fish was ... I’m going to say all of them.”
“I love to eat them too,” he added.
Explaining that those fish would be the neighbors in the Little River of the fish they raised, Kulp told them, “That’s why we’ve got to keep the river clean.”
The Trout in the Classroom project, sponsored locally by the Little River Chapter of Trout Unlimited, teaches students not only about fish but the watershed too.
Charity Rutter, one of the volunteers with LRCTU helping Thursday, added to the lesson with the story of “Franny the Fish.”
As Rutter read a story of pollutants the fish encounters, the students poured simulated items into a clear plastic bin of water with a metal fish. For example, chocolate sprinkles substituted for manure, rice for fertilizer and an antacid tablet for fizzing toxic waste.
As the water became more polluted, Rutter asked the students, “Would you want to swim in that water? Do you want to eat fish out of that water?”
“The water that comes out of our kitchen sinks comes out of this river,” she explained.
Finally Wietlesbach showed them some of the insects the fish they helped raise would be eating now, including a mayfly, stonefly and baby dragonfly.
“One of the ways you can tell if the water is clean is by the insects you find in the water,” the teacher explained.
“Hey, little buddy,” Zeb said as a stonefly crawled on his hand.
Before the students headed off for lunch, Zeb assured the Trout Unlimited volunteers, “I’ll be here next year.”