Mitchell Carr tiptoed from the banks of Bald Eagle Creek into the water.
He dodged a series of slippery rocks on his way. With a green net in his right hand, he scooped a brook trout out of a bucket and released it into the creek.
The trout turned in the opposite direction of where it was freed, and swam against the current.
Mitchell said he tried to follow the fish with his eyes, but it was out of sight in less than a minute.
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The eighth-grade life skills student accompanied Bellefonte Area Middle School seventh-grade teacher Allison D’Ambrosia’s mainstream science class to the creek near Milesburg, on the final leg of a project the students worked on since November.
On Friday afternoon, after six months of raising brook trout in their classroom, the fish were released into Bald Eagle Creek.
It was part of a long-term project D’Ambrosia was approached about last spring and introduced to her class in the fall.
The trout Mitchell released was the first into the wild of more than 80 raised.
“It’s awesome because they’re learning not only about the fish but about their habitat, water quality and the whole ecosystem, and are responsible for monitoring the tank,” D’Ambrosia said. “There are a lot of (anglers) in the area and the project puts them in touch with their interests.”
And the state fish of Pennsylvania is the brook trout.
David Truesdale, of the Spring Creek chapter of Trout Unlimited, said that, for at least 15 years, the group has organized educational outreach activities with Centre County schools through the Pennsylvania Trout in the Classroom campaign.
“We help teachers set up an aquarium and give them guidance to pursue the project,” Truesdale said.
D’Ambrosia was asked last year to help spearhead the project at the middle school. In June, she participated in training activities that helped her teach students about the task. An aquarium was installed in her classroom in September that mimicked the habitat of wild brook trout, and on Nov. 4, her class was provided with the fish eggs that hatched a few weeks before Christmas.
“We had over a hundred eggs, but not all of them survived and that’s what happens,” said seventh-grader Vincent Lawrence, 13. “We take care of the ones that are left and make sure they can survive.”
Classmate Julian Emel, 13, said the goal was to raise 20 brook trout, but they were able to maintain more than four times the amount.
“We did a good job at our goal,” he said. “This is the first time we’ve done this, so we weren’t sure how many fish would survive. It was a long process, but we learned a lot and it was a ton of fun.”
About 45 brook trout died immediately after hatching.
“If they’re not fed right away, they won’t survive, but that’s normal,” D’Ambrosia said.
Some students from the middle school’s life skills class also helped with the project, along with custodian Vern Read who fed the fish when class wasn’t in session.
He even joined the class on the field trip to Bald Eagle Creek on Friday to release the fish.
“I would have liked school more if we did projects like this,” Read said.
When released, the trout were only about three inches long, but Truesdale said that in their natural habitat, the fish could get up to 10 inches long in local waters.
D’Ambrosia said she hopes to continue the program with her class next year.