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Midland — Fifth-graders recently said goodbye to the 117 Chinook salmon they had raised in their classroom for months as the fish were carried away by the current of the Pine River.

Pine River Elementary School in the Bullock Creek district is one of three schools in the Great Lakes Bay Region raising Chinook salmon from egg to smolt through the Salmon in the Classroom program. The eggs were provided to Rebecca Dubuque’s fifth-grade classroom in October by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources with support from the Great Lakes Bay Region Steelheaders Chapter.

About 300 schools across the state take part in raising salmon in classrooms with the goal of encouraging students to become advocates for the Great Lakes and the environment, said Susan Rummel, a member of the Great Lakes Bay Region Steelheaders Chapter.

“It’s a good life lesson,” Rummel said. “They raise (the salmon), watch them grow, then are more cautious of and become stewards of the environment and the Great Lakes.”

It is Dubuque’s fourth year raising salmon in her classroom, said Dubuque. Raising more than 100 salmon is worth it in the end, because it gets her kids interested in salmon, conservation and the fishing industry, Dubuque said.

“It’s pretty stressful at times, if we lose power I have to come in and take care of them and come in on my spring break,” Dubuque said.

Dubuque’s students all had jobs to take care of the salmon, from changing the water three times a week, feeding them and tracking their growth. It involves “a lot of maintenance,” Dubuque said.

Funding for about $1,200 in equipment to raise the salmon was provided through the Great Lakes Bay Region Steelheaders Chapter. Tanks had to be aerated and kept at 55 degrees Fahrenheit using chillers.

Having the salmon in her classroom ties into Duqubue’s lesson plans, the teacher said, as she taught a whole unit on salmon alongside her students taking care of them. To celebrate the end of the school year, her class will get to go on a fishing trip June 12.

The Chinook salmon were about 4 inches long when the students released them into the Pine River at the Chippewa Nature Center on May 4. The fish had reached a point in their life where they were about to imprint – meaning they should to the Pine River where students released them when they are ready to spawn.

“I like to watch them grow. I’m excited to see how they will act in the stream,” said Maddie Gustincic, 11. “But I wish we could keep half of them and let the other half go.”

A new dock on the Pine River at the nature center allowed more children to witness the release of the salmon.

Students took turns scooping salmon out of a bucket with a net and letting them swim downriver.

“It’s a good learning process and good teaching tool,” Rummel said.

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