An aquatic team of basketball players, Pokemon and fast-food dishes departed on a journey to the Pacific Ocean on Friday as a class of fourth-graders set salmon fry free.
The annual fish release for Columbia Springs’ Salmon in the Classroom program brings 800 elementary school students to Salmon Creek in June.
About 50 classrooms of students, who have raised their salmon from eggs since January, will release 3,000 coho salmon in the hope that they’ll make their way down the Columbia River, then someday come back to spawn.
The program is a long-running staple of Clark County classrooms.
Columbia Springs has managed Salmon in the Classroom for nearly a decade and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife maintained the curriculum before that.
Katie Woollven, coordinator of the program for Columbia Springs, described it as a “full sensory experience” that allows hundreds of students every year to forge personal connections with salmon and their ecosystem.
“We’re hoping they connect with the waterways and connect with nature and become stewards of it,” Woollven said.
For Image Elementary School teacher Lauren Fern’s class of about 20 fourth-graders, Friday morning was filled with moments of quiet listening to the creek, shouting as they ran through an obstacle course mimicking the dangers salmon face throughout their lives, and bidding cups full of wriggling baby fish goodbye as they set them free into the stream.
“Tell your fish three reasons why it does not need to be scared,” Woollven told the class as they crowded around the stream to let their fish go.
Some named their salmon after basketball players, including Stephen Curry and LeBron James, hoping homage to athletes would keep the fish in good shape for the difficult journey downstream. Some opted for sillier names, such as French Fry or Chicken Nugget.
Ian Arredondo, 10, held a cup of five fish fry, named Salmon, Salmoff, Dragonite, Pikachu and Joey — the last after his little brother.
“It was fun seeing them hatch out from their eggs,” he said.
As for the trek ahead, Arredondo listed reasons the salmon’s new home would be a better place than the aquarium in Fern’s classroom.
“They’ll have lots of food, shade and a place to rest,” he said.
A brood of nearly 200 salmon lived in teacher Fern’s classroom, allowing students to see the babies grow every day. Fern touched on the fish in multiple areas of the students’ curriculum, including science, writing and reading.
“It’s the experience of connecting with their environment and getting outside,” Fern said.
Angelica Yaremchuk, 10, said she loved learning about how salmon live their lives by watching them in the classroom.
Then she shared a lesson some adults should heed as well as children.
“You should take care of them and not play around,” she said of the salmon. “Take care of their habitat.”