At 9 a.m. on March 28, Pocopson Elementary fifth grade students will release brook trout they have raised from eggs into the stream that runs behind the school at 1105 Pocopson Rd. in West Chester.

The trout release day will conclude a year-long environmental education program called "Trout in the Classroom" designed to foster knowledge about cold-water conservation in students. and encourage continued participation in conservation, management and outdoor recreation programs. Students raised trout from eggs, monitored tank water quality, recorded fish behavior, engaged in stream habitat study and learned to appreciate water resources. During the trout release day, students will participate in one of five culminating program activates.

Stroud Water Research Center director Bernard Sweeney, Ph.D., will conduct one of those teaching stations to help the students understand why recent tree planting on the school’s campus benefits fish and other stream dwellers.

“When settlers first came to this country, the land was heavily forested and trout were plentiful in all the streams. But over time we cleared land for agriculture, timber harvesting and development,” Sweeney said. “This deforestation and associated human activities reduced water quality and led to the demise of many local trout populations.”

Studies show that trees planted along stream banks, called stream-side forest buffers, help filter pollutants, prevent bank erosion, keep stream channels wide, normalize temperatures, and provide a variety of food in the form of leaves, shade-loving algae, and dissolved substances.

“Trout grow on trees,” Sweeney joked. “Stream-side forests help streams regain enough of their natural characteristics to once again support natural communities of aquatic plants and animals, including trout.” 

Principal Dr. Andrew McLaughlin said students cared for the trout on a daily basis, while their teachers incorporated environmental lessons into the classroom, which helped students understand ecosystems and develop a conservation ethic. The Pocopson PTO supported the program.

“At first, I wasn't sure how the kids would respond, but they are really proud of their accomplishment and what they learned,” said McLaughlin. “They even drew pictures of underwater scenes for the back of the fish tank.” The students will release about 150 trout fingerlings into the stream. 

The "Trout in the Classroom" program is supported by a partnership between Valley Forge Trout Unlimited  and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The partnership provides curriculum resources, workshops for teachers and program partners, technical support, brook trout eggs, fish food and grant funding.

Others who will present learning modules to the students include: Andrew Desko, South Eastern Regional Specialist for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, who will teach fly-casting; Terry Peach, owner of Marblehead Flyfisher Inc., who will talk about fly-fishing; and a representative from Trout Unlimited.