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Students Study Salmon Cycle
Teacher Sheri Hillstrom adds a pinch of food to the tank with the small salmon fry in her classroom, with the students learning about the life cycle of the fish as part of a class project. Marg Jackson/The Times

Two fifth grade classes at Dent Elementary School have some special guests residing with them for a while … salmon.

The classes of Sheri Hillstrom and Chris Casazza have tanks containing the now fully grown fry – about to become fingerlings – which they started from eggs. The two teachers went through training to offer the salmon life lesson to their students, becoming certified through the San Joaquin County Office of Education.

Once both were certified, the eggs were delivered and the tanks set up according to instructions, including insulating them to maintain specific temperatures, to receive the ‘package’ of salmon eggs.

“They were just in a little gauze package,” Hillstrom explained. “We just put it in the front of the tank.”

Students kept track of the progress, and Hillstrom said they were able to watch the progression from eggs to alevin to fry and now on to the fingerling stage. They will be released by students on an upcoming field trip to the Mokelumne River. In two to four years, the salmon will reach the smolt stage.

“I thought it would be a great thing to have the fifth grade classes do,” added Hillstrom. “We will definitely do it again. We’re hoping each of the kids will get one to release.”

Teacher Chris Casazza said “it was fun” going to the training and the project has already paid dividends for his students in sparking their interest in the fish and the growth process.

“It was awesome to see the transformation from the egg,” he said.

Student Parker Saunders agreed and said he also thought it was humorous to see them sometimes hit the side of the tank while swimming.

“I like how they turned from the eggs into the alevin,” said Aubrie Manriquez, “how fast they turned.”

She’s hopeful that some of the salmon they release will one day return to spawn.

“I named one ‘Bob’,” she said. “He likes to hide a lot, though.”

Classmate Jayleen Lopez was also interested in watching the growth.

Tyler Vesper said he and other students in Ms. Hillstrom’s class have grown fond of their fishy friends.

“They’re kind of like pets,” he said. “It’s cool that they started from eggs, and they will go back to where they were released to lay their own eggs.”

The field trip to release the salmon is expected this week.

“My favorite fish is Jerry,” said Brittney Cheary, a student in Mr. Casazza’s class, noting that she can tell him from the others because “he has more silver” color to him. “He always comes up when I go over to the tank.”