New Canaan Country School fourth-graders are part of a statewide environmental conservation effort to repopulate Atlantic salmon in the Connecticut River.

On May 23, they traveled to the Salmon River State Forest in East Hampton. After meeting with scientists, they carefully released baby salmon -- or fry -- which they had raised into the river's tributary.

The salmon release was the final step in a multi-month project of studying salmon. In December, Lower School science teacher Chantal Detlefs received 200 salmon eggs from the Connecticut River Salmon Association. The organization has been working with schools through its program "Salmon in Schools" to reestablish the endangered species in the state's major river.

"The kids are surprised by how fascinating the life of a fish can be," said Detlefs, who has been working with "Salmon in Schools" for four years. "They learn how to observe closely, engage in real-time research and learn about environmental issues."

Every day for approximately five months, the children took turns measuring the water temperature -- salmon need cold water, about 2 degrees Celsius -- and charted the daily growth of the eggs as they became sacs and then fry. They learned about the salmon's upstream anadromous -- fresh and salt water -- migration pattern to the North Atlantic, observed salmon scales under the microscope, and studied the effect of dams on salmon population.

Students also learned that government funding for the salmon repopulation project has been cut significantly for next year. The "Salmon in Schools" project will continue; however, funding for scientific research and hatcheries will cease.

"It's important to teach kids how these types of projects get funded and cut," Detlefs said. "A project like this connects the kids to nature through science. It also teaches them the importance of taking care of the world around them and reinforces the school's commitment to environmental sustainability and stewardship."

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