Kari Richards, a teacher at Herbert Green Middle School, decided to spice up her “Salmon in the Classroom” program. Instead of teaching her fifth graders how to raise and release the salmon, she put a group of eighth graders in charge of the program. The eighth graders, all identified as students with special needs, accepted the opportunity with enthusiasm.
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With support from the Innovations in Environmental Education Fund, the eighth graders prepared the lessons about the salmon life cycle and presented their creations to Richards’s fifth grade students. Each student kept a journal and the eighth graders helped the younger students with their assignments. This helped the special needs students gain confidence and build on their science and writing skills.
All the students visited a fish hatchery to hear about the salmon’s historical spawning areas and how dams have affected the native population. They learned how the hatchery helps keep salmon and steelhead in the American River and how their own classroom’s fry would help maintain the fish population.
Together, the students visited a local fish habitat and tested the water quality at Weber Creek. There is some concern about their creek results and they hope to share their water quality findings with the public. This winter the students will learn about the inside of a fish with a dissection demonstration and participate in the release of their salmon that they have raised.
“What an amazing opportunity it has been to work with a cluster of students whom I don’t normally including in the lessons.” Richards said. “Seeing the looks on the special needs students’ faces after they have helped fifth graders with their work, given directions, graded papers they taught and assigned… has been incredibly gratifying.”
Richards is so pleased with the program that she is meeting with the special needs teachers to see if they can incorporate these lessons into other subject areas.
If you have an idea that promotes environmental education and creative partnerships, consider consider applying for the Innovations in Environmental Fund (IEE). IEE, administered by the American River Conservancy, provides $400 to $4,000 grants for local educators. El Dorado County teachers, administrators, and parent volunteers can submit a grant proposal until Feb. 22. Download a proposal online: arconservancy.org/innovations or call Molly Hucklebridge at the American River Conservancy at 530-621-1224 for more information.