Colrain Central School bids fish farewell

  • Colrain Central School first-grade teacher Lena Jillson releases trout fry into the east branch of the North River in Colrain. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Colrain Central School first-grade teacher Lena Jillson releases trout fry into the east branch of the North River in Colrain. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Colrain Central School first-grade teacher Lena Jillson and Principal Amy Looman carry buckets of trout fry to the east branch of the North River, which flows by the school in Colrain. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Colrain Central School Principal Amy Looman takes a video of first-grade teacher Lena Jillson releasing trout fry into the east branch of the North River. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 6/17/2020 12:58:01 PM

COLRAIN — When an acid spill at Barnhardt Manufacturing Co. last fall killed tens of thousands of fish in the North River, Colrain Central School educators saw it as a chance to bring their students’ learning experience home.

So, with some donations and the cooperation of a local hatchery, first-grade teacher Lena Jillson and Service Learning Coordinator Talia Miller spearheaded a service learning project to raise trout to replace some of the fish that were killed. Even once students were sent home in March due to the pandemic, school staff members continued to care for the developing fry until last week, when Jillson and Principal Amy Looman released the four buckets of trout into the east branch of the North River that borders the school grounds.

Though the students didn’t get to see the trout finish growing or be released into the river in person, Looman made a video of Jillson as she gently poured the contents of each bucket into the water. The small fish, now 2 to 3 inches long, congregated on the riverbed around the educators’ ankles and started looking for food.

“We were sad that the kids couldn’t be here with us because they’re the ones who watched them grow and took care of them,” Looman said.

To document the service learning project, the school also put together a booklet called “Raising Trout to Replenish the River,” which features testimonials from students and commendations from Kevin Parsons of Trout Unlimited and state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton.

“We were so happy when we learned that the first grade at Colrain (Central) School raised their voices to speak out for the river when the terrible acid spill happened,” Parsons wrote. “We hope that upon their release, the fish will enjoy a happy life in the clean, cold water of the North River, which we all seek to preserve and protect.”

“Thank you for raising your voices out of strong concern for our environment,” Comerford wrote to the students. “You have demonstrated not only the power of social engagement within education, but the power of resiliency and the possibility of rebirth.”

Looman said the fish kill had a profound impact on the schoolchildren, many of whom witnessed the dead fish and other aquatic life that washed up on the shore in the days following the spill.

After Daniel Marchant, manager of the Roger Reed Hatchery in Palmer, brought the school 200 trout eggs in the fall, the students took turns feeding the fish daily and observing them as they grew, Jillson said. She added that the students were able to research the creatures’ life cycles, furthering their understanding of local wildlife.

Then, during the spring, with the school year continuing remotely, Jillson stayed connected with her first-grade students by encouraging them to write down their thoughts about the project and mail them to her. When the fry were released, Looman continued to video Jillson as she read the students’ remarks.

“I had so much fun having them in my class,” one student attested. “At first, I did not know anything about fish. Now I know so much about fish.”

“My favorite thing to do with the trout was feeding them,” wrote another student. “I learned that it takes a long time for the fish eggs to grow up. I hope that our fish live for a long time.”

Reach Paul Franz at 413-772-0261, ext. 266 or pfranz@recorder.com.




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