Under the watchful, curious eyes of students, more than 1,200 tiny Rainbow Trout are starting to emerge from eggs at Temecula Preparatory School in Winchester.
A fish hatchery of sorts has been set up on campus as part of the “Small Fry To Go” program, which incorporates science, technology, engineering and mathematics to make it a STEM project.
“This is a mirror image of a trout hatchery, we have it in microcosm so kids can get that experience,” said Tom Schmeltzer, founder and executive director of “Small Fry To Go.”
Schmeltzer, a retired teacher who is certified by the State of Georgia as a master naturalist, said Temecula Prep is the newest of 22 school sites —the first west of the Mississippi River—to implement the program.
He was on hand last week to ensure the launch went smoothly. It did, and created a lot of excitement on campus.
“They’re so cool, they tiny,” said 12-year-old Emma Burns, a seventh-grader at the public K-12 charter school. “I didn’t realize they were that small but this is cool because then we can see how they grow and stuff.”
Staff and parent volunteers helped construct the labitat—a combination of a laboratory and a habitat—for the fish that in March will be released into their permanent home in the waters of Lake Perris State Recreation Area.
Volunteers such as Max Henson, whose grandchildren attend the school, also attended a one-day course in order obtain certification from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to help oversee the project.
Denee Burns, director of development for Temecula Prep and Heritage Classical Charter Schools, described it as a school-wide project.
Each grade level is assigned different duties, such as feeding the fish, testing the water for the appropriate chemical balance, and ensuring the labitat is kept at the proper temperature.
“Environmentalism is a huge, huge part of this project,” Burns said. “This is teaching our students to be good stewards of the environment.”
Temecula Prep applied for and received grants from Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone’s Office and LEGO Children’s Fund in order to cover the cost—approximately $8,500—of “Small Fry To Go.” Private donations also came in from parents and staff, Burns said.
Day by day, the fish will gain strength as they grown and transform into small fry before being released into a natural habitat.
It’s a process being mirrored on campuses in Alamaba, Georgia, Florida and Maine, according to Schmeltzer.
“They are being little scientists,” Schmeltzer said. “The reason we do this is to get kids connected with the environment and teach them to nurture something. They take responsibility for it.”