March 15, 2024

Area students care for trout eggs during winter

By Abby Wilson

In the beginning of February, several middle and high schoolers in the region were given a huge responsibility to raise trout from eggs.

Windham Middle School students test water
quality in the Pleasant River in preparation
of the release of trout fry they have been
caring for this winter. The program is a 
collaborative initiative between the 
Cumberland County Soil and Water
Conservation District and the Portland
Water District. COURTESY PHOTO  
Windham Middle School and Jordan-Small Middle School from RSU 14 were among the 20 schools throughout Southern Maine that will take care of these fish for three months.

For over 10 years, the Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District (CCSWCD) and Portland Water District have partnered to help schools raise brook trout. CCSWCD delivers the eggs to schools in the winter, and the students care for the fish as they become fry. Once they are large enough, the students release them into local streams in May.

Chris Loew, District Educator at CCSWCD, says the program is an “opportunity for kids to get appreciation for local watersheds and rivers.” He visits the schools to deliver the eggs but also presents lessons about water quality and the life cycles of the fish to the students.

The program is centered on science and connection to local rivers. It also teaches children about their proximity to freshwater. Within the first few weeks of May, the students will go out with representatives from CCSWCD and Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to release the trout.

In Windham, the middle school is close enough to the Pleasant River that students will be able to walk there as in previous years.

“Kids may not have otherwise known how close they live to these special water bodies,” Loew said. “As we were walking down, we pointed out the things that would impact the health of the water.”

About 6,000 eggs have been delivered to schools in Cumberland and York Counties. Middle Schools and High Schools from Saco to North Yarmouth are participating in the program this year.

The project has an obvious educational benefit, but Loew said it is also adding to the aquatic ecosystem as thousands of brook trout are being added to local streams and rivers this spring.

Last year, CCSWCD educated 13 communities and more than 2,100 students at 26 different schools. This includes the trout egg program but also at summer camps and after school programs.

Science education is hands on and allows kids to experience science, Loewe said. Many activities involve problem solving and challenge children to think creatively. Kids complete building projects that pertain to chemical, physical, and biological characteristics in nature.

Recently, students in Windham schools learned the science of healthy water. Loew conducted an in-class activity where students made predictions about the requirements of water health and what fish need to survive.

“Our education program is growing,” says Loew. “We are constantly trying to create and develop engaging activities to share with teachers.”

The CCSWCD acts a resource to implement science education into the classroom. They write grants, get sponsored by partners, and fundraise for science gear.

“The benefit of us as a resource is that we can supply the materials that teachers can’t get access to,” Loew said. “For example, the trout program tank chillers can be very pricy pieces of equipment.”

When school is out, CCSWCD partners with the City of Portland Parks and Recreation to make regular visits to kindergarten through 5th graders at summer camps.

The youth education catalog includes topics on invasive species, sustainable landscaping practices, soil health, the water cycle and so much more. Science programming also focuses on environmental issues like pollution and climate change.

Educational programs help teachers bring science to their classrooms, immerse students in natural ecosystems, and engage children in activities that spark curiosity.

“Anytime you can get kids out of the classroom to learn science outdoors, it is a positive thing,” Loew said.

Learn more about Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District and their education program at <

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