Salmon in Classroom stays alive

Richland teacher Jim Ryder was heartbroken this weekend when he read that funding for Salmon in the Classroom was ending.

The state cut money for the school salmon-raising program last week, and its future looked grim.

But on Monday, two Mid-Columbia conservation districts announced they'll keep the program alive for fourth- and fifth-graders alive in Benton and Franklin counties.

Ryder said his Jason Lee Elementary School class gets its salmon eggs after the holiday break is over each year. He said the program is a highlight of the year.

"It's a very good program for kids to watch salmon develop," Ryder said.

Conservation districts in the two counties will pay to keep the program going, said Rachel Little of the Benton Conservation District. It was unclear Monday what will happen elsewhere in the state.

Salmon in the Classroom lets students raise salmon from eggs to young fish, which they then release into the river to migrate to the ocean.

The program ends with a celebration at Columbia Park in May where students from 65 schools release their fish into the river, do crafts, learn about the environment and see a birds of prey exhibit.

The state of Washington announced last week that it was ending the 20-year-old program as part of a $6.2 million cut in the Department of Fish and Wildlife budget.

But Little and Kara Kaelber, her counterpart in the Franklin County Conservation District, say they have money to keep the program going. There are 38 tanks in classrooms in the two counties, where kids can watch the fish grow. It's a way to teach science that really reaches kids, Little said.

"Water is a dry subject, but you put fish in it, and kids get interested," Little said.

The program originally started in gifted student programs, Little said, but soon spread to all classrooms.

"I realize not every student who goes through this may grow up to be a fish biologist," Little said. But, she said, it's important to have hands-on education like the program offers.

"I have had kids come up and say, 'I used to hate science, but now it's my favorite subject,' " Little said.

Franklin County's Kaelber said many describe Salmon in the Classroom as their most memorable school experience.

w Cathy Kessinger: 582-1535; ckessinger@tricityherald.com