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Fourth Graders Begin To Examine Chinook
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Magnolia fourth grader Bryson Vargas examines a jar filled with salmon eggs during the hands on two day lesson on Chinook Salmon. OJUSD fourth graders will travel to Knights Ferry in November for the annual Salmon Field trip. Teresa Hammond/The Leader


Things may seem a little fishy with Oakdale Joint Unified fourth graders these days, as teacher Krista Smith has begun making her migration to the varying school sites. Smith’s migration, however, doesn’t come by way of a fish snack cracker or a classroom pet, the salmon teacher spends two days of lecture time teaching the students about Chinook Salmon. As result of her teachings the students then travel to Knights Ferry to visit the Stanislaus River and learn further about the sea life in their natural habitat.

Four days in November, thanks to Smith and a group of volunteers, are dedicated solely to teaching Oakdale fourth graders and some parents about this local inhabitant.

“The classroom component I teach is one part of an entire program that includes: the OID Field Trip, graphing the weekly Fishbio data on the salmon count through the Fishbio Weir and raising salmon in the classroom from January to March,” Smith said. “This is an entire program extending from October through March and demonstrates the complete lifecycle of this amazing animal.”

During the classroom portion of the instruction, Smith reviews the Life Cycle of Salmon, offering visuals to aid the students’ memory in the growth process of the fish. She also covers the migration of the fish from fresh water to salt water and back to fresh water as they grow older.

“This is a program that is teaching our students about their own natural backyard,” she added.

Smith makes the lesson relatable with her primarily nine-year-old subjects, as well as hands on, offering samples of salmon eggs for them to review, scent tests and a taste test of salt water versus fresh water.

The second day of learning is dedicated to “Dead Salmon Food Chain,” covering the importance of the nutrients offered by the fish when they return from the Pacific Ocean to the Stanislaus River.

“The lessons reinforce the Science Standards taught by our great fourth grade teachers,” Smith said. “The classroom component is a setup to the OID sponsored field trip. With the classroom learning, the students arrive in Knights Ferry with background knowledge that enhances and makes more valuable their time spent on the field trip.”

The teacher shared her appreciation for the district as well as the community support as this experience has continued for close to 20 years, since its original inception by former teacher Ann Marie Bergen.


“OID’s continued funding, about $2,000 a year and FishBio’s willingness to give us whatever data, movies, knowledge we need,” she said. “The volunteer Docents who return every year as regularly as the salmon. This is truly a community effort to make this program an unforgettable experience for our students.”