SHENANDOAH JUNCTION, W.Va. — Wildwood Middle School students in teacher Carolyn Thomas' science classes are learning how to protect the environment by learning how to fly-fish.
On Tuesday, they grabbed fly rods and, using bits of Velcro for flies, tried to land stuffed cloth fish strewn about simulated ponds of dark blue vinyl tarps.
Their instructors were Josh Nease, Trout Unlimited's West Virginia Headwaters youth education coordinator for all nine West Virginia counties in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, and Kati Cole, of Trout Unlimited's National Fly Fishing in School Program.
Students in all five of Thomas' seventh-grade science classes participated, as did eighth-grade members of the Environmental Club, she said.
This year's program "was just a teaser" to see if it worked, she said. "Next year I'm going to integrate it into the science curriculum."
Her students spent the last school year planting trees to protect the banks in Flowing Springs Park. They also planted and watered native redbud trees around their school's "front circle."
They took water samples in Flowing Springs Park, went on environmental field trips to Pendleton County, W.Va., and raised 200 brook trout from eggs in their classroom. Thomas said they eventually released about 50 fingerling fish in a designated trout stream in nearby Virginia.
Next year, she said her students will get serious about assessing the water quality at Flowing Springs Park in an effort to answer "the big question: Can brook trout be introduced and survive in the water there?"
She also wants to take her students out of the classroom and on field trips led by scientists and professionals in the field.
"We want to work with the National Conservation Training Center, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Cacapon Initiative," Thomas said.
Thomas received a $10,000 grant to implement her programs.
On Tuesday, her students were learning the rudiments of fly-fishing from Nease. In addition to the basics of the cast — stripping, backcast, pickup and forecast — they learned that the live aquatic insects that artificial flies simulate are just as important in attracting trout as they are indicators of water quality, Nease said.
Insects live in trout streams of differing water quality, he said.
"Some can tolerate more severe conditions than others," he said.