As a part of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Salmon in the Classroom program, Four Corners Montessori Academy’s 7th and 8th grade students have been devoted to raising Chinook salmon from eggs to smolt stage, since the beginning of November 2021. Together with their Natural World (Science) teacher, Stephanie May, the middle school students have watched them hatch and develop over the past six months.
The DNR has offered this amazing opportunity to Michigan schools to connect students with Michigan’s natural resources as well as in the hopes of lowering the population of the massively invasive species, the alewife fish. This species continues to have an effect not only on the local level, but also across all of the Great Lakes, and by increasing the salmon population, the alewives can be forced back to their native waters.
Based on a thorough list of materials provided by the DNR, a 75 gallon fish tank was prepared to house the Chinook salmon in, with the students assisting in changing the water, checking water quality levels, and feeding the fish, all while observing their life cycle. These hands-on experiences were also integrated into their Natural World studies.
Not only has participating in this program provided a fun activity for students to be involved in, but it has also fostered the principles of the Montessori adolescent program by helping students develop responsibility, patience, compassion, self-discipline and openness to new experiences.
Head of School, Stacy Byrd, states, “When I originally connected with the DNR’s Aquatic Education Coordinator, Tracy Page, last spring, it was apparent that this educational experience was a perfect fit for our adolescent program. Additionally, it was wonderful to observe the meaningful work the middle school students completed throughout this school year which connected them to something bigger than themselves.”
Due to the students’ attentiveness, throughout this process, there was no negative impact on the growth of the fish, although on occasions there were some concerns with water quality. However, May and the students were able to overcome any challenges and avoided the fish becoming stressed which resulted in a high number of the salmon making it to the smolt stage, which is impressive since this was the first time FCMA participated in this program. “The level of responsibility and integrity that these students exhibited to ensure the salmon’s health was impressive, as they were always first on the scene whenever a problem arose,” says May.
As the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end,” and so on Thursday, May 12th, accompanied by Tracy Page, the middle school staff and students went to Lake St. Clair Metropark to release the salmon from one of the park’s boat launches. While it was a bittersweet moment saying goodbye to the fish the students had grown to be fond of, this day was still filled with joy and laughter in the realization of the positive impact those Chinook salmon will have on the ecosystem. Hence one of the many reasons why May and the middle school students have fallen in love with this program and look forward to participating in it again next year.
According to Tracy Page, “We are so proud of FCMA for being part of the Salmon in the Classroom program. With almost 300 schools around the state participating, they joined a fabulous group of dedicated teachers and students learning about our Great Lakes ecosystem. Through caring for their salmon, education lessons, fun release day activities and much more, the teachers at FCMA have done a wonderful job connecting their students to their natural resources and hopefully creating stewards of the environment for a lifetime.”
We look forward to seeing what brilliant ideas pop up next at Four Corners Montessori Academy, and keep an eye on our social media to see what project you can be a part of in the future.