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Some classes have a pet hamster or guinea pig. But some northeast Iowa classes have trout—and they’re raising them from eggs and releasing them in Iowa streams. A national Trout Unlimited program, Trout in the Classroom, allows students to raise fish and learn about their habitat and the importance of clean water.
The Driftless Chapter of Trout Unlimited, covering six northeast Iowa counties, usually funds the tank and equipment, while the DNR provides trout eggs, fish food and technical expertise.
“When you look at our Driftless Trout Unlimited group, I’m one of the young guys at age 48,” says chapter president Kent Kleckner. “It’s the idea of getting some exposure to the youngest generation and getting them interested in what it takes to keep our water clean and safe for trout.”
Ryan Rahmiller, a teacher at Charles City Middle School and Trout Unlimited member, thought the program would fit well with a unit on human-environment interaction. Students talk about the nearby Spring Creek watershed, sources of pollution, a trout’s life and trout across America, while also caring for the young trout, taking water tests and cleaning the tank.
“Trout serve as a real-life example of the relationship between humans and the environment,” says Rahmiller, who also started a fly fishing club at the school. “It’s a good program to get kids involved. They’ll never remember a worksheet, but they’ll think about the actions they take.”
Rahmiller’s wife Amanda, also a teacher at Charles City Middle School and TU member, now leads the trout program there. Last year, she moved the fish release to the Decorah fish hatchery, where students took a tour, fished, took water samples and more.
“There are lots of students interested in the outdoors, but they don’t get those opportunities in school,” she says. “Students enjoy things that are hands-on and have a real-world aspect to it.”
They’re also quick to tell their parents about what they’re learning, making the project the talk of the community. Folks on the street would often stop to ask about the trout, says recently retired Decorah Middle School teacher Meg Storkamp.
“We learned a lot about the resource in our area, and it was just a very engaging activity,” Storkamp said. “Because it’s in your backyard, kids might not appreciate trout streams. This helps them relate to why we want to care for this resource.” This article originally appeared in the Admiration and Legacy section of the September/October 2014 issue of Iowa Outdoors magazine.