Program brings fish into classroom

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  • Nathan Buckley, Tully Zander, Mike Jenson, Larry Timchak and Al Hammel stand with the new Trout in the Classroom aquarium at Whitefish Independent High School. (Daniel McKay/Whitefish Pilot)

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  • Nathan Buckley, Tully Zander, Mike Jenson, Larry Timchak and Al Hammel stand with the new Trout in the Classroom aquarium at Whitefish Independent High School. (Daniel McKay/Whitefish Pilot)

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In looking for ways to honor the late Chet Wram, Mike Jenson settled on one of their favorite activities together — fishing for trout.

In memory of Wram, Jenson donated a new “Trout in the Classroom” aquarium full of westslope cutthroat trout to the Whitefish Independent High School. Wram passed away in 2016.

“Chet and I went to school together and grew up together, and traveled quite a bit together,” Jenson said. “It’s two years since [he passed away], and I’ve kind of been looking for something to do in memory of him.”

Trout in a Classroom is a national program sponsored by Trout Unlimited and local chapters to connect students to watersheds and the ecology of cold water species, including trout and salmon.

Flathead Valley Trout Unlimited President Larry Timchak said he’s always happy to bring the aquariums into a new school.

“We are excited to add another Trout in the Classroom aquarium to Whitefish Independent High School — this is the fifth aquarium donated to local schools in the Flathead Valley,” he said.

For Independent High School teacher Al Hammel, the 55-gallon aquarium is a new way to bring practical learning to his students.

Hammel said the project started with his students showing an interest in fishing. First they were exposed to fisheries, then worked with a field biologist and experts at the Creston National Fish Hatchery.

When he heard about Trout in a Classroom, Hammel said he reached out to Timchak to explore ways to bring the aquarium to his class.

Experiential learning is at the core of the school’s mission, and the aquarium is no exception for his students, Hammel said.

“The concept of, ‘I’m not really into science,’ all of a sudden becomes, ‘Now I’m actually doing it and finding out what my actual career path could be,’ as opposed to just reading about it and taking classes in college,” he said.

Being an English teacher, Hammel said he can’t give students a science credit for the work with the aquarium, but he hopes in the future to get a science teacher to design and oversee a curriculum to run alongside the trout projects.

Hammel said he’s willing to come in once a week and reset the auto-feeder on the aquarium to keep the fish alive and well during the summer.

The next problem to solve is what to do with the fish in the long-term.

“We were told that we need to euthanize them, so sure, we can do that and cook them and eat them and we won’t waste them. We could save them for a biological study like dissection. Or, is it possible that we could figure out how to work the bureaucracy of Fish, Wildlife and Parks and figure out how to release them, if not into the wild at least into holding areas that benefit children,” he said.

“It becomes a problem-based learning activity where students need to come up with that solution.”

In Montana, it is illegal to release live fish into water bodies.

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