Life Cycles and Life Lessons: Students Learn by Raising Salmon and Shad

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., June 1, 2022 /PRNewswire/ -- A sad realization swept over Melissa Jachim's third grade class at Walker Charter Academy earlier this spring as students learned that 105 of their chinook salmon fry, part of their Salmon in the Classroom project through the Michigan DNR, had died over the weekend. Quick to point out the correlation with nature, Jachim noted their five remaining fish were still ahead of the curve compared to salmon hatched in the wild.

"A salmon might lay about 10,000 eggs, but how many of those will actually get the chance to grow to be an adult?" Jachim asked the class, prodding their memories. "The odds are about one or two will have a full life cycle out of those 10,000. Many of them will get eaten by other fish like steelhead, or fishermen like you guys."

Salmon are not native to the Great Lakes and the reasoning behind their introduction was partly to help manage the overpopulation of a baitfish called an alewife. These fish would wash up on beaches at the end of their life cycle by the thousands.

While showing the students a picture of a shoreline full of dead alewives, Jachim asked another leading question.

"Too bad we don't have smell-o-vision," she said. "What would it smell like? Would it smell good? It would not, you would not want to play there."

"Eeeew," the class replied in unison.

About 800 miles to the southeast, students at PreEminent Charter School in Raleigh, N.C. were learning about shad, a migratory fish that spawns in freshwater but spends much of its life in saltwater. Science Teacher Gina Bobbitt partnered with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission to host the Shad in the Classroom project.

The fish eggs arrived on a Monday and students learned to sort the live from the dead eggs, which became a daily task.

"We pulled out the eggs and fry onto petri dishes to watch their development," Bobbitt said. "I was able to pull out the digital microscope to display on the overhead so everyone could see the development." 

The eggs grew to become tiny see-through fish, which students took to a park down the road from the school to release into the river to grow.

The program also provides an artistic element where students make fish prints made from grown shad molds, created by the museum. Finally, a student from North Carolina State University will lead PreEminent students in shad dissections to show what a fully grown fish looks like.

PreEminent Charter School and Walker Charter Academy are part of NHA, a charter school management company in Grand Rapids, Mich. with 98 tuition-free, public charter schools across nine states, serving more than 60,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

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SOURCE National Heritage Academies