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Fabric of life

Of the 225 spring chinook salmon fry swimming idly about in the tank in Ryan King’s classroom at Ruch Community School, one has a name.

Billy is the only fry in the lot distinguishable enough to retain a name.

“He has a big eye so I know which one he is,” said Holly Harding, 13.

Since October 23, when King introduced 250 salmon eggs to the class, Harding and the rest of the students have monitored the temperature, pH level and dissolved oxygen concentration of the water in the tank and watched the eggs develop.

“We've been able to see them change from eggs to alevin (still carrying a yolk), to fry,” said Kylie Edwards, 13. “And they changed color. They have stripes now.”

The Salmon Watch Project is part of King’s sustainability curriculum, which the school began implementing in 2013.

In the class, offered three days a week to seventh- and eighth-graders, King covers science, language arts, social studies and math as related to five sustainability themes — energy, forests, food, water and waste.

“Some schools have an outdoor ed component, but not very many schools have a sustainability class as a core curriculum piece,” said King, who has a master’s degree in environmental education. “It makes sense to have this class out here. We’re rural so a class about animals, stewardship and land ethics is fitting. It’s in the fabric of the community.”

Each term, King focuses on a different theme, while engaging students in long-term projects. As part of the curriculum, the middle-school students also must deliver a lesson on each topic to the school's younger students.

This fall, the class studied water, specifically salmon ecology, stream habitats and food webs. They also took a field trip to McGregor Park on the Rogue to study macro-invertebrates, which fry feed on, and to watch salmon spawn.

In January, students will turn their attention to energy, build a small solar display and research the feasibility of installing a solar panel array at the school.

And King has already convinced a local beekeeper to set up two hives in a remote, fenced-in area of the campus for the students to manage and monitor as part of their study of food this spring.

“It’s my favorite class,” said Edwards.

Today, King’s class will travel to TouVelle State Park, where they will release Billy and the rest of the fry into the Rogue River.

“We have to release them because their yolk sacs are going away, and they need to feed on the macroinvertebrates,” Harding said.

King said he wasn't sure how many of the fry would survive the transition from the aquarium to the river.

“But the purpose of the project was not to replenish the native population,” he said. “Rather it was more of an educational opportunity so the students could get familiar with salmon and realize how vibrant and important they are to this region.”

To learn more about Ruch’s sustainability curriculum and the students’ projects, see www.ruchschool.org.

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.

These spring chinook fry are scheduled to be released into the Rogue River today. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch
Ruch Community School eighth-grader Kylie Edwards checks the pH level of a fish tank that's holding spring chinook salmon fry in her science classroom. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch