By Grace Gaard, Aquatic Ecology Education Specialist
Adventure: an unusual and exciting, sometimes hazardous experience. While rarely risky, the word “adventure” fairly sums up field-trip season for the Trout in the Classroom program across Nebraska. Although the in-field portion of the program took a hiatus during the coronavirus pandemic, this spring marked the second year since the program’s full reboot. Program offerings hit their stride during the 2022-2023 academic year, and since the pandemic, the number of participating schools have rebounded to 102 statewide.
Trout in the Classroom is a science-based program that invites classrooms to explore aquatic ecosystems, life cycles, water quality and the scientific process through raising trout eggs in their classroom. Students learn about life science, watersheds, data collection and analysis over the course of the spring semester, and the program is capped by a field-trip portion. Here are a few highlights from across the state.
Lincoln and Omaha
This year, adventures began at the end of March, which entailed three weeks of trips for metro-area students to Schramm State Recreation Area and Aquarium. With the support of Schramm and Lincoln education staff and many youth fishing instructors, these students received opportunities to release their trout, discover insects that live underwater, cast a line at the fishing pond and explore the aquarium. They also learned how to slow down to make observations and participate in a bioblitz. Children from 2nd to 12th grades braved the chilly temperatures this spring to uncover natural treasures in the prairie while searching for biodiversity. They had a great time!
Students in the Chadron, Scottsbluff and North Platte areas attended field trips simultaneously over several days. Game and Parks education and wildlife division staff facilitated activities at both Chadron State Park and the ponds near the Scottsbluff YMCA, braving snow showers and dissecting trout from our fish hatcheries.
In North Platte, the first day of experiences went off without a hitch, with calm winds and students having an excellent time catching macroinvertebrates and rainbows in Birdwood Wildlife Management Area’s interstate lake. The second day was the epitome of adventure, with gusty winds for our morning group, which forced students and educators to take shelter with the afternoon group at the North Platte Fish Hatchery. Shout out to fisheries staff for making room for us and being flexible, especially when that snow squall moved in. At the hatchery, students were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of freshly harvested walleye eggs! These are the moments when making tough or complicated decisions, like moving a whole field trip, pays off, and we couldn’t do it alone.
The final week of April brought warmer weather and fun times for students in northeastern Nebraska. Beginning at Ta-Ha-Zouka Park in Norfolk, elementary and high school students released their trout, hunted for macroinvertebrates and went on a hike where there was much to see: beavers munching on tree trunks, cormorants flying overhead, interesting twigs and even the discovery of a praying mantis ootheca, or egg case.
The next day, we kicked things off at Ponca State Park with middle school and high school students. Thanks to assistance from parks and education staff, students hiked, successfully fished for trout in the park’s pond and found a huge diversity of macroinvertebrates. One group of high schoolers even brought along the third-grade students from their sister school and mentored them throughout the day. Students enjoyed new experienced and many laughs. One student named their fish Dill Pickle, and if that doesn’t make you smile, I don’t know what will.
During the first week of May, students from Ainsworth and Keya Paha schools visited Keller State Recreation Area. This lovely park gave students great fishing, and the views could not be beat! Staff from wildlife and education divisions showed the students a great time as they released their fish and explored this natural park.
During the second week of May, our Trout in the Classroom field trips commenced at Kearny State Recreation Area. Despite the weather negatively affecting one of our days, this location was perfect for students to have great experiences in nature. Thanks to great teamwork, our program also partnered with communications staff to allow Trout in the Classroom students to enjoy the Outdoor Discovery Program. Not only did students within this age group get the chance to release their young trout and explore small aquatic invertebrates, they ALSO got to participate in the wide array of activities offered within the ODP.
Feedback from Educators
Educators can be limited in the field trip experiences they’re allowed to choose at the end of the year. When asked why they chose to participate in Trout in the Classroom, one teacher explained, “Being outside with my students is a great activity. I wish I had an experience like this earlier in the year as well. There are always students experiencing the outdoors for the first time, and it is such a thrill.”
Another responded, “I knew there would be a ton of hands on activities. These activities are educational, but they would not necessarily get the experience at school. Some of my students would never get to experience the activities with their families either.”
One educator shared, “[The program] gives us an opportunity to focus on environmental sciences and natural resources, and our students love learning outside of the traditional classroom walls. Any chance we have to provide hands-on learning opportunities, we will take!”
Finally, “It’s a really nice culmination to the TIC program. Many of our students haven’t been to a state park or have had the hands-on experiences that are provided on this field trip.”
All in all, the 2023 Trout in the Classroom field trip season served 52 schools and over 1,750 students at eight different locations. Not to mention, the incredible teachers who hosted field trip or family experiences associated with the program on their own. Attempting to coordinate volunteers, staff, teachers, students and trout during the variable spring season can get complicated, but it’s always a worthwhile adventure. Thank you to all that participated this year. We can’t wait to meet our new fishy friends this fall!
Special thanks to all Nebraska Game and Parks staff and youth fishing instructors who volunteered at these events. Additional thanks go to Trout Unlimited Chapter 710 and the Nebraska Environmental Trust for providing funding that makes this program possible.