Jake Duplessie Q & A

Trout in the Classroom (TIC) offers schoolchildren the chance to raise trout from eggs to fry to fingerlings, before releasing them into local streams. Over the past two decades, TU volunteers have carried TIC into classrooms nationwide, with southwest Idaho's Ted Trueblood Chapter representing one of the program's most steadfast proponents. For a decade, the chapter has quietly but systematically ramped up its program, and today it works with nearly 30 classrooms. As the driving force behind this success, Jake Duplessie talks about his techniques for recruiting and retaining enthusiastic volunteers.

How do schools find out about your program?
Mostly word-of-mouth. We also assemble displays for sportsmen's shows, conservation events and other gatherings. We enjoy using these events as a platform for sharing artwork, journals and thank you notes inspired by students who have participated in the program.

You make it a rule to add just two or three programs a year. Why?
It comes down to commitment, expertise and money.

Let's start with commitment. How do you know if a teacher is really motivated?
Since most people find out about us via word-of-mouth, their unsolicited interest already indicates a certain level of commitment. We respond with information that clarifies classroom responsibilities - obtaining equipment, monitoring pH levels in the water and incorporating the program into the curriculum. If they're still interested, we pass their names on to our Board of Directors. The Board then weighs the teacher's interest with the other two elements I mentioned - expertise and money.

What kinds of expertise are you looking for?
Assistance from local fisheries biologists can make or break a program. These volunteers assemble aquariums, maintain equipment and even consult on lesson plans. Their participation raises teacher confidence, especially for those who appreciate TIC, but may lack a background in science.

Where do you find these experts?
Sometimes a teacher will have someone specific in mind. Historically, we've recruited from the local offices of federal and state agencies. Some agencies even have performance measures that support involvement in programs like TIC. For example, the United States Forest Service requires that staff biologists provide some sort of community outreach to fulfill annual performance measures. We also recruit folks from private businesses, such as engineering firms or power companies. Once we've made contact with someone, it usually isn't long before they're ready to leave their office and connect in the classroom.

Finally your third component. Money.
It's a factor the chapter has to consider. Donations from a number of local organizations help cover some of the start-up costs. However as the program grows, so do our funding needs.

How have you been addressing that challenge?
We build relationships with local foundations, banks and other businesses. In addition, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game has taken steps towards incorporating some of our program's success into a statewide aquatic education effort. They've proposed assisting teachers with grant writing and fundraising, which would help a lot.

Where do you see the program five years from now?
Hopefully touching students across the state. The sky's the limit!

Interview by Sara Kaplaniak.

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