Students learn about river dwellers during Fish Week

Times Observer Photo by Brian Ferry Under the tutelage of leading ichthyologist Dr. Bill Hanson (left) Tidioute Community Charter School eighth-graders (from left) Daniel Arthur, Layla Rulander, Landin Williams, Madelyn Warham, and Gabbie Lindsay, team up during Fish Week to present information about pikes, pickerels, muskellunge, and mudminnows to their classmates.

Students at Tidioute Community Charter School celebrated Fish Week from Sept. 19 to 23 with a special guest.

Dr. Bill Hanson, a 1974 graduate of Warren Area High School, returns to his home county for a week each year to talk to local students about the Allegheny River.

“I grew up in Warren,” Hanson said. “I am a lifetime friend of (TCCS CEO) Dr. Doug Allen. He said, ‘Why don’t you come up once a year and do a Fish Week?'”

So, he takes over Andrew Waugaman’s eighth grade biology classes for three periods a day and shares information with the students.

Fish Week usually leads up to the annual Pennsylvania State Championship Fishing Tournament.

This year, the week also coincided with the 50th anniversary of National Hunting and Fishing Day — celebrated on Saturday, Sept. 24.

During Fish Week, the students learn about the occupants of the river that runs through their community. “I love to be with the students and teach them about the river,” Hanson said. “They live by it.”

“They will learn about biology and animals that live around them,” he said. Hopefully, they take an interest in that subject matter.

Hanson didn’t literally write the book on the fish in the Allegheny.

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His mentor, Distinguished Professor of Ichthyology at Penn State Dr. Jay Stauffer, did.

“We use the book — Fishes of Pennsylvania by Stauffer, et. al.,” Hanson said. But, they don’t use it as a textbook — it’s more of a guide and a reference.

“That’s how they know which fishes are in the Allegheny — distribution maps,” he said.

The students select from the fish families Hanson introduces. In groups, they learn more about those fish and then they become the teachers — presenting information to their peers.

This year, their choices were catfishes and bullheads, pikes and muskellunge, trout and salmon, sunfishes and basses, and darters and perches.

The group of Daniel Arthur, Layla Rulander, Landin Williams, Madelyn Warham, and Gabbie Lindsey presented on pikes and muskellunge — including the pickerels and mudminnows.

Students presented a variety of information to their peers — from scientific names to what the fish look like, feeding habits, habitat, and range, and other interesting facts.

Hanson said the students could go to the tanks at the fishing tournament and identify which fish belong to which families.

Lindsey explained how she might do that.

“We learned how to tell a family from a different family by fin structure,” she said.

Certain fish families — salmon, trout, and catfish, in particular — have an adipose fin, she said. That fin helps them hold position in a gentle current without exerting the energy required to move the other, larger, fins.

She can also differentiate between a largemouth bass and a smallmouth bass following Fish Week, she said. “We learned a lot that I didn’t know. It was fun.”

“It was fun to learn about the species of fishes that are in our state,” Warham said. “It was interesting. I live right on the river. I think I should get out there more often.”

Encouraging that curiosity and interest in their home environment is part of the goal of Fish Week.

“Our school is based on experiential learning — hands-on,” Waugaman said. “What better experience than to learn about the river they live by?”

“Having a gentleman who studied under one of the biggest ichthyologists — you can’t get any better,” he said.

The river is the economic and environmental driver for Tidioute — and many places like it. Encouraging students to take an interest in it is important to the teachers.

“This also leads the students to fall in love with the river and the environment,” Waugaman said.


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