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In 2006, the Black River Hatchery, Sturgeon for Tomorrow (SFT), and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) partnered up in hopes of reaching out to youth in their classrooms about endangered sturgeon.  The directors and workers of the hatchery sat down and configured a plan to reach out to what they call “next generation conservation stewards”. In hopes of causing awareness to young students around Michigan of how the sturgeon population is in need of help, they created a program called “Sturgeon In The Classroom” (SITC). This provided what Brenda Archambo, President of Sturgeon for Tomorrow, called an “exclusive opportunity for students”. Eight lucky classrooms were selected to raise a sturgeon for 8 months. In this process these classes worked with SFT and learned more and more about their classroom friend for the year. At the end of the year the students take a field trip to the Black River Sturgeon Hatchery and let their sturgeon go.

Stewie The Sturgeon

One of the classrooms selected was Mr.Thomson’s 5th grade class at Ella White Elementary School. In the school year of 2018-2019, the class named their new sturgeon “Stewie”. Throughout the year students have worked with the fish through literature and science projects. Thomson says he enjoys seeing his kids becoming passionate about the fish and the schoolwork they do with Stewie. He also says that having the fish,  “Gives many opportunities such as a research and writing communication project, a watershed project, and a presentation project.” Thanks to Black River Hatchery and SFT, students are now able to get a different and unique experience with hatcheries that no other students have had before.

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For some people, this opportunity is seen as what some would call a “classroom pet”. But in this case their fish is used as a sturgeon science education tool rather than a “mascot”.  Their classes sturgeon is a huge help to the students’ education when it comes to literacy and science objective. Students constantly do written communication pieces with the fish as well as science lessons.

One of Mr. Thomson's student teams partnered with Michigan Sea Grant to create an educational Great Lakes Heroes 'Super Sturgeon' outreach poster. This is one example of how students have applied their learning to expand Lake Sturgeon stewardship education beyond their classroom and into the community.

Towards the end of the school year the students say goodbye to their fish friend and reflect on the past eight months they have had with SITC. In Mr.Thomson’s class, kids shared out loud things they learned, projects they had completed, and for most… a personal story. Students then travel to Black River Hatchery and release their sturgeon. “This provides a closure part for the kids, but also saddens them to see a friend of theirs go” says Thomson. Once the day is over they return to their class with a reminder of how exciting it was to have the sturgeon and how much they learned throughout the year.


Story written by Madysen Gohl, Alpena High School - Science in the Sanctuary 2019

Resources: Personal interview with Robert Thomson, 5th Grade teacher at Ella White