SIC in a nutshell...(click for more program details)
One of the Department of Natural Resources most successful natural resources education programs for students is Salmon in the Classroom. It's a year-long program in which teachers receive fertilized salmon eggs from a DNR fish hatchery in the fall, hatch them out, feed and raise the fry through spring, and then release the young salmon into a local river. Plus there's a whole curriculum that goes with it.
The program teaches students about everything from the life history of fish, to the importance of the Great Lakes and fishing to Michigan's culture. Even better, it ties directly back to their community as a great place-based educational effort. Students are connected to their local rivers and streams knowing that the smolts they released will return to the very same spot in 2-3 years to spawn. This connection encourages a long standing appreciation for Michigan's natural resources and ecosystem health.
The Department of Natural Resources Salmon in the Classroom (SIC) program has been in Michigan schools for more than a decade. In each of those years, the program has grown and now boasts 180 schools that will raise salmon through the 2012 – 2013 school year. The Salmon in the Classroom Program requires a commitment from an educator to teach students about our Great Lakes ecosystem and fisheries management by raising salmon for almost the entire school year. It also requires schools to purchase the necessary equipment including a tank, chiller and other supplies. This initial expense is about $1,200 and is a significant hurdle for many schools. The good news is there are many sportsmen organizations and private donors willing to support the program by providing funding.
Additionally, many SIC sponsors take responsibility for classroom field trips associated with the program to get the salmon to a stream in the spring. In addition, they may provide an opportunity for each child involved with the program to enjoy a fishing experience. One example is the strong DNR partnership with the Michigan Council of Trout Unlimited. They have established a Salmon in the Classroom Liaison position within their Education Committee. This position works with the three department program coordinators to recruit new teachers into the program, offers them possible funding for their initial set up, and serves as a sounding board for new ideas. In addition, TU has committed to providing volunteers to help package the hundreds of bags of food required for each teacher in the program each fall, and to help distribute eggs to teachers at the Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery and at the Southeast Michigan area egg drop.
Other partnership examples include that with The Saugatuck-Holland Area Charter Boat Association. Members of the association asked teachers in the Salmon in the Classroom program at Douglas Elementary School if they could arrange a field trip for the fifth graders in the program to take them fishing on Lake Michigan. So on a windy May morning, more than 70 fifth graders spent the morning on big-lake boats, trolling Lake Michigan waters for salmon. Despite some moderately obstinate weather, the event was a huge success. Numerous youth not only enjoyed their first fishing outing, many of them caught their first fish.
Dave Engel, a well-known charter boat skipper out of Saugatuck, said his group has been sponsoring the local Salmon in the Classroom program, by providing the funding for the aquariums and water chillers, for the last several years. The idea of a field trip came up at an association meeting, the group proposed it to teacher Jacque Groenendyk, who began the program at Douglas Elementary, and the idea of a fishing trip took hold. This is just one example of many community groups involved with building students into future stewards. "It's so cool," said 11-year-old Taylor Castillo, who was one of the first on her boat to reel in a salmon. "I think it's a great experience for us to learn about salmon." Castillo said she never thought she'd be one of the people out catching fish, "but I definitely wanted to try it."
So did her classmate. 11-year-old Brenda Bekins, who caught a 13 1/2-pound Chinook salmon - tied for the biggest fish of the day. Bekins had never been fishing before. "I can't believe I caught a 30-inch salmon on my first fishing trip," she said. "My first trip! Great fishing!"
The enthusiastic statements like those from the young anglers above are exactly why the department supports Salmon in the Classroom. "If we can get young kids excited not only about the fish in their aquarium, but translate that into a passion and respect for healthy wild fish and their habitat, we're successfully building the future stewards of our state's natural resources. That's something I'm very proud of." Said Natalie Elkins, Education Specialist with the DNR.
Teachers in a 3rd grade class or older, who are interested in joining the SIC program, start by visiting the online application at www.michigan.gov/sic between January 1 and April 15, 2013 to apply for the following fall. Applications are reviewed and accepted teachers are contacted before the end of the school year with the next steps they need to follow. These steps include applying for an SIC Scientific Collector's Permit and signing up for a one day workshop in November 2013. Once a teacher is accepted into the program they are automatically renewed each fall. Plus, a tri-annual newsletter goes out to all participants with important dates, tips and refreshers to keep those teacher's engaged. As Beth Eggleston from Laingsburg High School said this fall, "I cannot believe how excited the kids are to watch and help these fish survive. And an excited student, is ready to learn!"