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Raising fish brings science to life for Pleasanton Middle School students

Hatched trout released into Shadow Cliffs waters ahead of Spring break

Students at Pleasanton Middle School raised about 30 trout fish eggs from February to March, watching as they hatched and grew to be three centimeters long.

It was then time then to say goodbye.

"When they came into our class, they became part of our family," seventh-grade student Veronica Tunyk said.

Derrell Bridgman, a member of Tri-Valley Fly Fishers, delivered fish eggs to classrooms across the Tri-Valley this February, including to students at Pleasanton Middle School. He's been at this for 17 years to stave off boredom during retirement and to teach children about caring for nature.

Last Friday, the last school day before Spring break, Ann Cartwright and Patty Fletcher, teachers at the school, lugged the cooler to the shores of Shadow Cliffs Regional Recreation Area. The fish they'd raised had been the same type as the ones that live at Shadow Cliffs, a logistic to protect the local ecology that the California Department of Wildlife coordinates.

First, they shooed away lurking ducks. Then they carefully scooped the fish into the cool lake, reminiscing about how their students reacted to the fish during the past few weeks.

Often, some students are blasé about the eggs upon delivery, Bridgman said. But soon, they're more than happy to watch the wriggling pipsqueaks glide across their tanks. They even enjoy writing reports about it.

"They can tell the fish apart, and they each have a name," Bridgman added, noting students sometimes get emotional when it's time to release the little fish. "They sing songs and recite poems to wish them farewell."

He brought trout eggs to Cartwright's science classroom just in time for her seventh and eighth graders to start their ecology lessons. Rather than being a snooze-fest, Cartwright said her students bolted into class each day and only wanted to talk about the fish.

"That's the first thing they do when they enter the room," she said. "They run to the tank."

She crafted lessons about different types of fish, showing students everything from how they grow, to where they spawn to how they're gutted by fishermen. Some students squirmed, and the ones who grew up with a pole in their hands didn't even flinch.

The dozens of fish each had a handful of names -- as hard as they'd tried, they'd quickly lose track of specific ones. They were mostly named for celebrities, both real and imagined: Flash, Jamaal, Charles and John Cena. Then there was Jim, name for one of the students' dogs, and Carlos -- just because.

Several students said they enjoyed the lesson. Most had never seen a fish hatch from its egg or seen how they change as they grow.

Bridgman said throughout his years providing fish eggs to classrooms, he's had a few students go on to pursue careers in wildlife management. At least two ended up becoming game wardens.

"They grew up so fast," Tunyk said.

"I'm still waiting for my favorite part when I get to catch them," retorted 13-year-old Joey Demeo.

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