"Our fish will be leaving the building," came the announcement over the public address system at Hampden Elementary/Middle School on May 3.
Minutes later, 15 seventh-graders would rush 204 trout tykes in an ice cooler full of water to Roland Park to be released into the Stony Run.
The student body had one last opportunity to visit the tiny rainbow trout that were grown from hatched eggs in the school's science lab starting early this year.
And, the children got to look again, as they often have in recent months, at drawings of trout on colored paper that hang on a wall near the cafeteria. Each student had taken ownership of his or her drawn fish, even giving them pet names like Swimmie, Nemo and Mr. Fin.
And, they visited the science lab regularly to check up on the real fish as they grew large enough to earn their freedom.
"They really bonded with the fish," said Title I teacher Ryna Johnson, who teaches science among other subjects. "They got a chance to have a vested interest."
After students said their goodbyes and sang a trout-themed version of The Everly Brothers' "Bye Bye Love," architect Tom Gamper, an advisor to the school's Trout in the Classroom program, scooped up the trout in a small, portable ice cooler like one you would take to a picnic, but fitted with an aerator to keep the water cool and oxygenated.
The seventh-graders followed in a school bus and gathered on the banks of the stream, at Wyndhurst Avenue and Lawndale Road.
There, Gamper scooped the wriggling trout into small paper cups, about four to a cup, and handed them to the students. One by one, the children stepped carefully onto a slippery rock that jutted into the stream, knelt down and poured the fish into their new home, where they swarmed with the current.
As they disappeared from view, ripples appeared in the shallow water.
"Those are our fish," Gamper told the middle-schoolers. "They'll travel as far as their curiosity will take them."
"It's cool," said Christian Kliner-Tager, 12, "because they actually get to live."
How long many of the trout will live depends on factors such as possible drought conditions and whether the water gets too warm in summer.
"It's going to be rough," Gamper warned.
Trout in the Classroom is a program in hundreds of schools nationally, and in 45 in Maryland, including Hampden and Roland Park Elementary/Middle schools and the private schools Boys Latin and Gilman. Area schools include McDonogh and Lutherville Lab in Baltimore County and Belair Elementary in Harford County.
This year's program at Hampden started Jan. 6. Other north Baltimore schools also started early this year and are ending now. They too had trout release events either Thursday or in the past two weeks, Gamper said.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources supplied eggs and other materials to Hampden and gave the school permission to grow the trout and release them into the Stony Run as an approved stream, said Gamper.
Also on hand at the release event was Valerie Butler, of the Carnegie Institution for Science, in Wyman Park.
BioEYES, a K-12 science education program at the institution, provides classroom-based learning opportunities through the use of live zebrafish, states its website, http://www.bioeyes.org.
BioEYES, in partnership with Trout in the Classroom, brought Trout in the Classroom to Hampden Elementary/Middle and seven other schools in Baltimore, Butler said.
A $32,000 grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust paid for Trout in the Classroom equipment and supplies, so students could release the fish, Butler said. She said the trout program is one aspect of a bigger BioEYES environmental program called Your Watershed, Your Backyard.
"The goal is to educate students about the Chesapeake Bay watershed and to (help them) understand their connections to their local streams and to the bay," said Butler, who works in Carnegie's Department of Embryology.
Gamper, 55, of Charles Village, felt an affinity with the students. He got interested in raising trout and fishing as a youngster growing up on the Gilman campus, where his father was a teacher.
For him, releasing trout into their natural habitat symbolizes "what we can do when we set our minds to restoring the environment."
As an architect, he said, ""We think of how the built and natural environments should be in balance."
And he said it's great for the students — "just to get them on a stream, to walk a trail, to hear birds, maybe to run."
For Linsay Burch, 12, "It was fun."
And, for her twin sister, Kassie, it wasn't goodbye as she poured her last paper cup of trout into the water, but hello.
"Hello, fishie fishies," she said as they darted away.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun