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December 2, 2012

Like a sturgeon

Local students give endangered fish another chance


It might sound like a big and confusing word for most middle school kids, but members of Jill Ryerson’s seventh-grade language arts and social studies class at North Whitfield Middle School know it well.

“It means local extinction, and it’s happening in the Coosa River Basin,” Jarrod Wright, 12, said. “Dams were built in the area a long time ago in the 1900s and the sturgeons weren’t used to it. They left and were almost extinct in the area. Now, we’ve helped bring them back and they’ve gotten use to the dams. They’ve adapted.”

Class members worked alongside officials with the state Department of Natural Resources, said Ryerson, who took her class snorkeling through local rivers and to sturgeon releases along the Conasauga River. James Lo, 12, said the experience was “awesome.”

“The teachers allowed us to help get one of the big ones (sturgeons) out of the (DNR) container and out into the river,” James said. “It was amazing and so heavy that I fell down when we released it. It felt really good to put it back into its rightful place.”

The students were given a couple of one-year-old sturgeons named Moe and Curly, named after two of the Three Stooges.

“We didn’t get a third one or we would have named him Larry,” McKinsey Tate, 13, said. “I really like what we learn and experience in class and how we try to better the community. These two are small but they will become giants. When they get too big for the tank, we’ll release them to the river like the others.”

These “giants” can grow an average of six feet and weigh as much as 200 pounds, according to the National Geographic website, while the biggest lake sturgeon in the River Galley exhibit at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga is nine feet in length, according to the Aquarium’s website.

“That guy needs to lay off the macroinvertebrates (sturgeon food on the ocean floor),” Thomas Gibson, 12, said of the Aquarium’s biggest sturgeon. “It’s amazing how we’re all sort of tied together. I can’t imagine something that small turning into something big. It’s kind of sad to know how they were extirpated. It’s amazing how much our actions impact something like sturgeons.”

He said his experience in the rivers inspired him to write about possible water shortages in other countries and “how everyone impacts everyone else.”

Ryerson said she hopes the experience “leads students to aspects of the importance of our community.”

“Many educators and parents have been against so much time spent out of the classroom (with these activities),” Ryerson added. “If they were to take the time to speak with our students they would hear the power behind the knowledge.”

Ryerson believes more out-of-classroom activities have brought her classroom to a 100 percent passing rate, as well as a high passing rate in Shell Underwood’s seventh-grade math and science class that partnered with Ryerson on the project.


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