Almost 4,000 students from 53 different schools in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC will get their hands wet raising American shad and then releasing them into the Potomac River. The Shad Program is run by Living Classrooms of the National Capital Region, a local non-profit organization that serves over 18,000 underserved youth and families in the Washington, DC metropolitan annually. Living Classrooms specializes in workforce development programs and hands-on educational enrichment, like the Shad Program.
Over eight years ago, Living Classrooms began helping the Potomac River’s quickly declining shad population, due to overfishing, poor river habitat quality, dam construction and pollution. Living Classrooms partnered with Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) “Schools in Schools Program,” which has been renamed The Shad Program. The program has grown from involving three schools in Montgomery and Fairfax Counties, to serving 53 schools throughout Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties in MD; Arlington and Fairfax Counties in VA; and Washington, DC.
Over the course of one month, thousands of students will grow American shad in their classrooms, and then set them free into the Potomac River, thanks to funding from the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB), Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS), CBF, Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund and Mirant Mid Atlantic.
The eggs are harvested from wild shad by Jim Cummins, a biologist from ICPRB, alongside students and teachers. Watermen and kids take adult shad out of the water, retrieve the eggs, and fertilize them by the millions.
In March, the learning process begins with a teacher training program taught by Living Classrooms educators. The teachers are given equipment for students to begin building their hatchery systems, which will be the home for the eggs. A hatchery, or a shad system, is made out of a 2 x 4 wood frame, a 32 gallon trash can and a 16 gallon utility tube along with other equipment. This year, Living Classrooms and program partners have trained 64 local teachers and 26 volunteers.
In late April or early May, the eggs arrive. Students begin to closely monitor their growth inside the system to ensure as many eggs hatch into fry as possible. This means checking water temperature, chlorine, nitrates, ammonia and pH.
Finally, after spending one week monitoring their tank and witnessing their eggs hatch into fry, students say goodbye to their homegrown shad. Kids create colorful signs with the words “goodbye shad,” which they carry to a designated local point along the Potomac River. This year, the release points are at Great Falls Park, Mirant’s Chalk Point facility and Bladensburg Park in Maryland; and Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia. By the end of the program, students clearly understand that their work will continue to benefit shad and their local watershed in the future.
Thanks to LC’s own Sarah Grasmick for the story. For more information about Living Classrooms of the National Capital Region please visit www.livingclassroomsdc.org.