Christy Gugliocciello’s fourth-grade class at Mountaintop Area Elementary School is participating in a project this school year for the first time, getting the students acquainted with fish native to Pennsylvania.
Through the Trout in the Classroom initiative, the class received about 200 viable brook trout eggs and a custom fish tank in November from the Spring Creek Chapter of Trout Unlimited. The mission is to create a classroom environment for students to raise the trout that are expected to get about the size of an adult human finger. By the end of January, there were about 100 fish in the tank.
In the spring, Gugliocciello and her students will head to Bald Eagle Creek in Milesburg to release the fish.
“We got the brook trout because there’s something special about them — they are the only native trout to Pennsylvania and the state fish of Pennsylvania,” she said.
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Gugliocciello said the project is separate from class curriculum, but allows students during class to take care of the fish by feeding them, and making sure the water is at healthy levels and temperatures.
When asked what the project entails, student Jacob Richardson said he and his peers work together to check water quality; measure pH, nitrate and ammonia levels built up from fish excrement; remove chlorine from the water; and feed them special trout food. Throughout the trout’s lifespan in the classroom, three sizes of food are used to help different sizes of fish eat and digest the food.
While Gugliocciello said the project is “exciting” for the kids to participate in, a couple students pointed out that the most amusing part of it all so far was hatching a fish egg that released a two-headed brook trout.
“It was so cool, like a double-twin, but it passed away,” Jacob said.
Gugliocciello added that about half of the eggs they received lived.
The custom tank is insulted to help keep the water temperature at a consistent temperature in the low 50-degree range. Because trout are cold water fish, they can get stressed if the water temperature goes higher than 60 degrees, Gugliocciello said.
The insulation, she added, works similarly to trees near a stream or creek that help shade the water and keep the temperatures low. If those trees and brush are removed, there is threat of losing native fish, Gugliocciello said.
Students also named the trout — mainly common names like “Bob,” “Joe,” “Franklin,” “Tom” — but Bailey Weaver saw a fish that often did flips in the water, and named it “Flexy.”
“If we’re going to raise them, we ought to name them like our own and that was one flexible fish,” she said enthusiastically.
The Trout in the Classroom initiative was made possible through a partnership with the state Fish and Boat Commission and Council of Trout Unlimited.
Britney Milazzo is the public relations specialist at Bald Eagle Area School District.