Students get hands-on biology lessons in the United Anglers of Casa Grande High School’s fishery.
Two programs on opposite sides of the United States are keeping conservation efforts local, involving teachers and their students in initiatives to preserve steelhead trout and Chinook salmon on the West Coast and diamondback terrapins on the East Coast.
For nearly three decades, the United Anglers of Casa Grande High School in Petaluma, California, has worked to repair riparian habitat in Adobe Creek and restore endangered fish populations. The United Anglers program is a combination of nonprofit organization and elective science class. “We cover general biology, match all the standards of biology—for example, how genetic diversity works in natural ecosystem—and apply that within the scope of the fishery,” explains Dan Hubacker, United Anglers teacher and director of United Anglers of Casa Grande, Inc. It is “not your typical lab class. This is completely project-based learning…We’ll spend the first month and a half or so building a foundation…then go out [to check the creek’s water quality],” Hubacker says. Students will also capture adult steelhead trout and salmon returning to the creek and “go through the whole spawning process” at the fishery. With no textbook to rely on, Hubacker has tapped a variety of resources from many sources, including the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, to create his curriculum. Program costs are paid through the nonprofit’s fundraising efforts (with a goal of $75,000 this year).
The course is very hands-on, according to Hubacker, with many opportunities for “kinesthetic learning. A lot of kids thrive [when they see] it from a different angle beyond the textbook. Sometimes these different opportunities keep them focused,” he says. “A lot of students are going into science, and a lot are coming back as public servants.” The United Anglers of Casa Grande website (www.uacg.org) features a list of alumni, the institutions of higher education they graduated from, and current employment, ranging from environmental biologists to law enforcement officers. Hubacker himself participated in United Anglers under the program’s founder, Tom Furrer, and took over as director two years ago.
When Furrer started United Anglers in 1983, Adobe Creek was dead: The water flow had been diverted for years, and trash littered the creek bed. Over time, students cleared the creek of tires, refrigerators, washing machines, and other refuse; planted trees; and pushed the city into restoring the water flow. The program expanded to include an on-campus fish hatchery, where students now monitor the genetic diversity of the 50,000 fish they breed and release each year as part of their Molecular Analysis of DNA For Identifying Student Hatchery (MAD FISH) initiative.
As required by the California Department of Fish and Game, students will examine captured fishes’ genetics, Hubacker says, trying to determine “Are they native? Are they from this area? Are we dropping fish on top of fish? We’ll also look at different pathogens and how to deal with them.” To accomplish this, students are working with researchers at the Buck Institute for Education, Sonoma State University, and University of California, Davis. “We’ve got our students in their labs. We have 20-plus years of [DNA samples],” proclaims Hubacker. He expects the students’ research will be contributed to the Pacific Salmon Commission, which provides regulatory advice and recommendations regarding the fish in the United States and Canada. “I hope to have students ultimately publish in a peer-reviewed journal,” he adds.
Because it is an elective, Hubacker says many students take the United Anglers class each year of high school, but the class size has been limited. “The program has always been 15–20 kids,” he says, but a need to serve more students became evident. “Now I have 48–50 students in class. I’m redesigning one of the classes; hopefully, I will have an introductory level and advanced level.” With a diverse class, Hubacker has more advanced students assisting their peers, which allows him to devote more individual time to the younger, less experienced students. In addition, he observes, “There is no better way to demonstrate what they know than when they start teaching. [Then] you know they have the material down.”
Hubacker says student involvement is critical to the success of the class. “This is something driven by students,” he says. The teacher needs to be “passionate to motivate students.”
In New Jersey, diamondback terrapins once nested on sand dunes, but decades of human development have forced the terrapins to find new nesting grounds.
“Unfortunately, the alternate nesting sites available to terrapins in southern New Jersey are on the shoulders of heavily trafficked roads crossing, and adjacent to, salt marshes. The result of this shift in nesting habitat is that hundreds of female terrapins are killed by motor vehicles each year,” asserts Patrick J. Baker, PhD, a research scientist at The Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor, New Jersey. During nesting season, institute interns and scientists scour “local roadways...in an effort to document the number and locations of road kills.” They also collect any dead terrapins that may contain viable eggs. The eggs are surgically removed and “incubated at The Wetlands Institute and at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. After seven to eight weeks, tiny hatchlings emerge from many of these ‘orphan’ eggs,” Baker continues.
The hatchlings are raised in captivity for 10 months to increase their chances of survival once released into the wild. Most are raised at Stockton College, but others are grown in classrooms around the region. Eight schools have participated in the program “over the past seven or eight years,” he says.
“We work with teachers to make sure their classroom setup is conducive to growing healthy terrapins,” Baker says. “Each classroom program is different and tailored to a teacher’s individual style, classroom needs, and expectations. The Wetlands Institute will provide assistance in whatever ways we can. Generally, we expect students will gain personal experience with a local native species. They will learn the values of conservation and stewardship, and apply science-based thinking to a real-world problem.”
Jane Krajewski, a fourth-grade teacher at Quinton Township Elementary School in Quinton, New Jersey, got involved in the hatchling program 11 years ago following a graduate course at the institute. She maintains two hatchling tanks out of her personal budget. One tank is at her home, and the other at the school.
The terrapins are an integral part of her curriculum. She starts the school year introducing her students to the hatchlings by “giving a general overview. We observe the babies and try to apply our current math unit of geometry. For example, [students] notice closed curve markings on the scutes, points as markings on their skin, the bumps from the backbone as line segments, [and so on]. We then take that information, and I utilize it in a writing activity, teaching skills like creating a webbed paragraph that focuses on mini lessons such as opening with a question or incorporation of transition words,” Krajewski says. “During the day, I have also incorporated the use of turtle journals that not only allow my young scientists to record observations, but also transfer their writing lessons once again into well-crafted paragraphs.”
As the hatchlings grow, Krajewski teaches her students about the threats to the species’ survival. In the spring, she usually arranges a field trip to the institute so students can watch the turtles’ release. “We even get to see the science of microchipping and a possible egg-ectomy while we are there, which really brings the facts from class to life!” she exclaims. “I am always trying to impress upon my students the importance of taking care of our environment and conserving our natural resources. Participating in this program was one of the best things I have added to my science/cross-curricular lessons.”