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4J students get hands-on salmon education thanks to EWEB grants

November 21, 2022

students gather under an awning with a teacher

On a chilly November day, third graders from Adams Elementary School in Eugene learned about the lifecycle of native salmon on a field trip to Lake Creek near Triangle Lake. The field trips take place all month as part of a program funded by EWEB grants. EWEB dedicates a portion of customer rates to inspiring kids to explore the wonders of science and learn about watershed health, water quality, and emergency preparedness.


“Oncorhynchus tshawytscha… so this is the scientific name for Chinook Salmon…and it comes from the idea that the male’s nose is hooked,” Tana Shepard said to an attentive group of 8-year-olds. “So, it comes from a Greek word…”

The group of third-grade students gathered around teacher Tana Shepard under an awning set up on the creek banks.  She showed them photos of Chinook salmon and explained they’ve traveled from the ocean to their spawning grounds here at Lake Creek.

Nearby, in the water, we saw several adult salmon who’ve made the 60-mile journey to this tributary of the Siuslaw River.

 “So, if you look out into the rocks… and watch, don’t get too far out,” Shepard warned. “It’ll be a long, cold foot day.” “I have boots,” one student replied     “So friends, listen carefully, do you see how there are 2 white shapes out there?” Shepard asked. 

three third graders look for salmon in lake creek 

Shepard pointed out two female salmon in the creek. She explained that the females are laying eggs, the males fertilize them.

Shepard said this is the most salmon she’s seen come back to this creek since she started leading these field trips 6 years ago. Out here, students get to see salmon in the wild and learn about the lifecycle of this keystone species:

“That if that species disappears from the ecosystem then the ecosystem falls apart,” said Shepard.  “Salmon, in particular, are just so important in the freshwater and saltwater environments and that’s really unique for them. So, having the kids learn about that and start to care deeply about a species that they’re raising in their classroom is really cool.”

The students are also raising salmon eggs in class. The salmon education program involves 30 different 4J schools and includes grades 1st-12th. Shepard and three other teachers lead these field trips for 3rd and 4th graders throughout November.

“And we use this trip to connect what they’re learning at school to the lifecycle here and what’s happening at the spawning stage,” Shepard said.

Shepard said the pandemic put these excursions on hiatus, and for the students and some of the teachers this is their first school field trip. She said the chance for students to experience hands on learning and engage in science is invaluable.

“It’s a proponent for getting kids outside more often…  and so, I love being outside so sharing that passion with them makes this even better,” Shepard said.

Shepard shared that one student tugged on her elbow during a recent salmon field trip and said this was a once in a lifetime experience.

Shepard’s work is funded by EWEB grants. The 4J/ EWEB Education Partnership is an environmental science program that supports learning opportunities around climate change and its effects in the Pacific Northwest.