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Francis Parker Students' Trout Project Teaches About Water Quality, Life

By Paul Biasco | April 23, 2013 7:44am

LINCOLN PARK — The third-grade science classroom at Francis W. Parker School is loaded with more than a dozen live animals, including a roaming turtle, but Monday morning the class said goodbye to its semester-long obsession: the trout.

With the help of a gift from Old Town Aquarium and support from the conservation group Trout Unlimited, the third-graders managed to successfully raise about 120 trout from eggs until they were big enough to be let free in Diversey Harbor Monday.

A week before the release, teachers and students predicted there might be some tears shed when the students dumped the pinky-sized rainbow trout into the lake. But the students understood that Lake Michigan was home for the trout, more commonly known as steelhead, and tears were averted.

"I'm kind of scared that they're all going to get eaten," said 9-year-old Alicia Berger.

Berger was one of the students who showed up early to school during the project to check the tanks' ammonia and pH levels.

"It always worries me, even on break," she said. "I'm always like, 'Oh my gosh, what if something goes wrong?'"

For students in the class, the real-life trout lesson not only taught them about life cycles, but also of the importance of keeping Lake Michigan's water clean.

Francis Parker parent and Trout in the Classroom leader John Frankot said the organization seeks to make the kids appreciate the natural resources around Chicago by linking them together through the fish.

"The trout is perfect because it's something we are raising and releasing," said James Audrain, whose third-grade class raised the fish.

Since starting the aquarium inside the school in November, wide-eyed students in Audrain's class have used the fish as a way to study the scientific method. Some of the issues included testing if the fish are colorblind, and why they tend to "hang out" in certain parts of the tank.

"We sort of bonded with the trout," third-grader Mason Gardner said.

The program at Francis Parker is the second in Chicago for Trout Unlimited. St. Margaret Mary School in Rogers Park released their trout into Lake Michigan at Loyola Park on Friday.

"The drive for us is really to help kids understand that clean and cold water benefits more than just fish," Frankot said. "We have to think about our daily lives and how we support water quality."