While the snowstorms in March and April kept students and teachers out of school for more than a week, the school of fish in Brian Hugick’s classroom thrived through it all under his careful watch.

Hugick, an earth science teacher at Somers High School, was presented with a Teacher Recognition Award by the Croton Watershed Chapter of Trout Unlimited for his “outstanding commitment” to the Trout in the Classroom (TIC) program.

There were no snow days for Hugick who showed his commitment to the trout through the power outages by monitoring and controlling the temperature fluctuations in its tank and hooking up his tank air bubbler to a generator to ensure the fish had the necessary aeration to survive while the rest of the building stayed dark.

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“They’re family,” Hugick said. “I don’t want to see them die because we lost power.”

Plus, when a classroom in Brewster lost their trout due to a tank equipment failure, Hugick and his students shared some of their trout.

The TIC program is a joint collaboration between Trout Unlimited, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The goal is to create sensitivity about the importance of our shared water resources by engaging students by incubating trout eggs and raising them from eggs to fingerlings. Students closely monitor water temperature, water clarity, dissolved oxygen, ammonia levels and pH to ensure the survival of their trout.

Beyond an academic understanding, students grow to love and care for their trout.  As the program progresses, students learn to see connections between trout, water resources, the environment and themselves. They also study the nearby forest habitat.

There are more than 120 schools participating in TIC in southern New York. 

For Hugick, there was no doubt that he would brave the snow-covered roads to tend to his fish.

Hugick’s been with the Trout in the Classroom program for more than a decade, working with his classes to raise the trout until they’re ready for release.

“His dedication to the success of this program for his students and his passion to engage students in science learning is truly extraordinary,” said Lilli Genovesi, TIC coordinator for Trout Unlimited. “Hugick and his students will soon be releasing the trout that they raised into surrounding watershed streams. These trout will serve as an indicator species in these local streams.”

The TIC program begins in October, the spawning season for trout; the fish hatch a few weeks later and grow about an inch every two months. When the fish are ready, they’re released in the Amawalk Outlet.

There are all sorts of lessons students can learn from having the trout, Hugick said, from water quality and bacteria to earthquakes. During the earthquake, a few taps on the trout tank shows how waves form from impact. 

Also, while the 100 or so trout look virtually identical, students begin to see personalities emerge, like with the alpha fish that does things like herd all the fish into one corner of the tank to get more food for itself.

“The nice thing is, you can actually have life in the classroom,” Hugick said.