The Shad Story

Article excerpt

Byline: Sandy Burk

Curtis Dalpra

Do you really believe that science trade books can spark real-life involvement in saving a threatened fish? I know they can. I've been involved with a successful science program at the Westbrook Elementary School, in Bethesda, Maryland, that does just that. The program-in which students participate in watershed restoration projects as part of a yearlong study of the local Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River ecosystems-was sparked more than 10 years ago when a motivated fourth-grade teacher and her enthusiastic students read the book A River Ran Wild (Cherry 1991). The book's positive message of creating environmental change inspired the group to action, and an enduring science program was born.

I share highlights from this longstanding program as inspiration to integrate science trade books into your curriculum-amazing science can be sparked in your students, too.

Annotated Bibliography

A River Ran Wild by Lynne Cherry (1991. New York: Harcourt Brace). The true story of the history, the polluting, and the cleanup of the Nashua River.

Ecosystems curriculum (1996. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution/NSRC). A 16-lesson unit for grades 4-6 that teaches about the relationships that link organisms to one another and to their natural environment. In this unit, students learn about both land and water ecosystems and construct a model ecosystem by connecting an aquarium and terrarium.

Schools in Schools curriculum (1995. Annapolis, MD: Chesapeake Bay Foundation). A series of classroom and field activities targeting grades 4-6 that introduce students to fish and fisheries and how students can help preserve and protect them, including raising American shad. This curriculum was used in the Washington area from 1996-2005, until the American shad effort ended. Current info on shad restoration programs can be found at Living Classrooms of the National Capital area (

Let the River Run Silver Again! by Sandy Burk (2005. Blacksburg, VA: The McDonald and Woodward Publishing Company). The story of Westbrook Elementary School's long-standing science program as told through the eyes of the students. The book highlights activities for students to help improve their watershed, from building rain gardens and wetlands to raising fish, and it includes resources to help teachers conduct their own programs.

Saving Shad

In 1995, fourth-grade teacher Sandra Geddes joined the Potomac River Shad Restoration Project, eager to provide a field activity and method for her students to help solve an environmental problem that they had identified as part of their study of local ecosystems: the decline of the American shad in the Potomac River. American shad are the largest herring in the world and, like salmon, they are anadromous, meaning they return from the sea every three to six years to lay their eggs in the fresh waters of our coastal rivers. They are an important food fish for animals such as bottlenose dolphin, bald eagles, and humans. As they return to lay their eggs, the fish are a part of several ecosystems, including the Potomac River, Chesapeake Bay, and Atlantic Ocean.

Explore the topic of Water Pollution and Conservation

As part of the study, the students read historical accounts of the Potomac River that revealed a river thick with silver fish. Over time dam building, fishing, pollution, and development damaged the river's ecosystem and contributed to the shad's decline. After students read A River Ran Wild, which describes a community of people helping to restore a river ecosystem, students were eager to get involved in restoring their own Potomac River ecosystem, including bringing back the shad.

Buoyed by their enthusiasm, the teacher trained to use the Schools in Schools curriculum (Chesapeake Bay Foundation 1995), which offered classroom and field activities that introduced fish and fisheries and ways students can help preserve and protect fish, including American shad. …