By Andrew Mansfield
The Gardner News
June 16, 2016
GARDNER – One day we all have to grow up, move out of our parents’ house and dip our toes into the waters of life. That’s a lesson a group of young brook trout learned when Gardner middle-school students let them out into the wild at Dunn Pond on Thursday afternoon.
“I like that about half of them grew up big, a few inches. I like naming them too,” said sixth-grader Jack Keenan.
He was one of a handful of students releasing fish as part of a Boys and Girls Club pilot program this school year. Students began raising them in a fish tank over the wintertime, nurturing them from the time they were eggs to being able to go out on their own.
The brook trout had it pretty nice, being fed ground-up insects and even having the students give them some cool names like Bubbles, Chubby, Cruiser and Speedy.
Instructor Mike Scherer, formerly of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, guided the students during the fish release.
“We’re letting them get slowly acclimated to it so when they come out they don’t go into shock,” he said, referring to having the fish adjust to the pond temperature.
Over the course of raising the trout, students learned about them preferring cold water, around 50 or 60 degrees.
Since the pond on Thursday was around 70 degrees, hotter than the tank, students first mixed a little pond water into the buckets they transported the fish in to let the creatures ease into the change.
Students also learned that the fish prefer a pH balance of 6 or 7, close to a neutral state.
The group started in the winter with about 70 fish eggs. Sixty of those were able to hatch and 30 of those survived the first few months of life, and were let go by the students into Dunn Pond over the course of a few releases.
The overall project was designed to teach them about biology and conservation, as Scherer also taught them about factors like pollution that can harm the ecosystem.
Fifth-grader April Chamberlain said a highlight for her was seeing “how they form from an egg, how they turn into big huge fishes I’ve never seen before.”
Before learning from Scherer, she didn’t know anything about brook trout, the food they eat or the environment they thrive in.
“I thought they were usually just home pets,” she said.
The Gardner pilot program is run at the high school by staff from the Boys and Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster. About 20 Gardner Middle School students participated this year.
Every day after school, students head up to the high school for a few hours to work with instructors on activities involving science, technology, engineering and mathematics, but also have some time to do their homework and eat a snack as well.
Keenan and Chamberlain also mentioned making rockets from plastic water bottles, using vinegar and baking soda to propel them, as another fun activity the group has done besides raising fish.