Third grade students at PS 62 react to their teacher telling them some of the trout eggs had hatched. Every student in the third grade gets to participate in Trout in the Classroom. Equipment includes a 55 gallon tank, a tank chiller, stand and filter.Photo: Holly Deaton

Bronx schools take a unique approach to teaching kids about water

PS 62 student gets his first look at the trout eggs his class will be raising.Photo: Holly Deaton

PS 62 students learn about water quality by caring for trout

Gasps of excitement filled the air of a third-grade classroom in Longwood as the students there saw trout eggs for the first time.

Hundreds of classrooms across New York state, including about seven in the South Bronx, from pre-k to high school, are participating in a unique program called Trout in the Classroom (TIC). Students in the program will raise over 20,000 trout eggs in the classroom using New York City tap water.

New York City is one of only a few cities in the U.S. whose water supply is unfiltered, and TIC aims to use trout to educate students on the source of their drinking supply and increase students’ appreciation for cold-water conservation and the environment as a whole.

Trout are an indicator species, meaning they survive and grow in clean, drinkable water. According to Edward Timbers, an official at New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), if something’s wrong with the water, then the trout are probably having problems.

The program is a partnership between a nonprofit organization focused on clean water initiatives called Trout Unlimited, and the DEP, and has been in South Bronx schools for seven years. 

TIC, which has been in New York City since 1997, has grown from about 20 schools at its inception to just over 200 schools in 2019.

Third grade students at PS 62 react to their teacher telling them some of the trout eggs had hatched. Photo: Holly Deaton

Students in the program will hatch, raise and release the juvenile trout into the water streams that supply the city with its drinking water. Throughout the school year, students learn how to test the quality and PH balance in the water as well as learn first-hand about the development cycle of fish.

One of the DEP’s primary goals is to protect New York City’s water supply, to make sure the water is clean, from its source in the Catskills Mountains all the way to a tap in the city.

New Yorkers use about a billion gallons of water a day across the five boroughs. According to Timbers all of it is unfiltered.

TIC organizers hope that using tap water to raise the trout will help educate students on why it’s important to the source of their water clean. It is just one of many programs the DEP oversees to educate the public about the water supply.

According to Timbers, the group receives about $10,000 a year from the city to fund school programs across New York State. The program is free, but participating schools need to buy a few pieces of equipment to take part.

For teachers the total cost is about $1,200. The largest expense is the water chiller, which runs about $600, and for many schools in traditionally underserved areas the costs are often covered with donations from donors.

Joelle Diesman, a third-grade teacher at PS 62 on Fox Street, said that she was able to get almost all of the equipment from Trout in the Classroom. The rest of the funding came from Donorchoose.org, a nonprofit website where teachers can crowdsource for funding for materials and resources.

This is Diesman’s fifth year running the program. She said that every year she sees a change in her students.

“They’re going to see how everything that they put into the garbage and everything else goes into the water that we drink. So you notice by the end of the year they want to use recyclable bottles, they want to make sure that the water is clean, and they don’t drop garbage [in it],” she said.

For many of Diesman’s students, the program is the first opportunity to get outside the city and immerse themselves in nature.

“For these kids, it’s seeing where your water starts and where it comes to an end. It’s the ability to see that if you don’t take care of the environment that the fish live in we’re going to have really gross water,” she said. 

Diesman’s students have only just started learning about trout, but in October they got their first look at the eggs that they will take care of over the next eight months.

They were in for a surprise. Two of the eggs had hatched.

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