State cuts to kill Salmon in the Classroom program
Every year, 40,000 schoolchildren in the state are introduced to the life of salmon through the Salmon in the Classroom program. But the program is ending in January.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Every year, 40,000 schoolchildren in the state are introduced to the life of salmon through the Salmon in the Classroom program.
But beginning in January, the program is ending.
It's the victim of budget cuts, and teachers who rely on the program to teach schoolchildren to raise the salmon and release them into the wild are devastated.
"We heard it was on the chopping block," said Steven Garlid, who teaches at Bryant Elementary School in Seattle. "It's been a wonderful program at Bryant for my entire career, 17 years. There's no substitute for watching salmon eggs develop and hatch."
The fifth-grade teacher said his students teach younger ones about salmon, and it is an all-school science program. "I can only guess what the loss will be," said Garlid. "It's losing a tradition. You can't learn this online. We're losing something that binds the community, and it shows how desperate the state has become."
Craig Bartlett, spokesman for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, which had been funding the program, said it was eliminated in the just-completed special session of the Washington Legislature and also was proposed to be eliminated in Gov. Chris Gregoire's budget.
The program has been in place 20 years, he said, and it averages 495 schools a year, reaching about 40,000 students.
"We are sorry to lose the program," said Christy Vassar, program manager with the department's fish program. "Tens of thousands of young people learned about the natural world for the last 20 years, but these are extremely tough economic times, and all state agencies are required to cut back."
Bartlett said that eliminating the program will save $110,000 the rest of the school year and $442,000 for the next biennium.
All of the money for the program came from the federal government, but Vassar said the federal funds will be used for other fish and wildlife projects, such as fish-catch assessment and keeping track of salmon in the wild.
The elimination of the program is part of a $6.2 million cut in the Fish and Wildlife budget, plus an additional $4 million in lost revenue in the state wildlife fund. "This is just one of a number of cuts," said Bartlett.
Andy Pickard, a fourth-grade teacher at Beacon Hill International School, said the whole school is involved in the salmon program, and the salmon tank is in the main hallway of the school so everyone can see it.
His students raise the salmon fry from eggs and release them at Seward Park. "It's going to be really sad," said Pickard. "It's part of our school."
James Chandler has been running the program for Fish and Wildlife for the past 12 years and worries that if it is eliminated it will never come back.
"Not only does Salmon in the Classroom affect students, it bleeds over into adults," he said. "A lot of kids go home with this connection and share it with their parents. My concern is, we're taking another hit in education. I'm deeply hurt; this is a program I fell in love with, and I truly understand the value for students."
He said not only has Fish and Wildlife financed the program, but it purchased equipment for the schools, such as refrigeration units, chillers and aquariums.
The decision is particularly hard for Liza Rickey, who teaches at Clark Elementary School in Issaquah, near the Issaquah fish hatchery. "The kids will be devastated. We're already talking about setting up the tanks this year," she said. "The hatchery is close to where the kids live, and to have the experience of the life cycle of salmon firsthand is huge in their learning. It will be devastating not to have it anymore."
She said her students care for the salmon eggs and release the fry each spring into Issaquah Creek, analyzing the water quality in the stream where the tiny fish are freed. When the salmon return in the fall, the kids are there to meet them.
Garlid said saving the program would take a grass-roots effort because he doubts the Seattle schools could afford it.
"I've talked to a few parents about this and they're shocked, and the outcry will be heard," he said. "It's such an important program."
Chandler said he's considering talking to U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials or some of the Native American tribes to see if they'd consider taking over the program.
"It's been a phenomenal education experience for the students," he said.
Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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