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Cheboygan students cover class pet sturgeon's release

Cosmic, the lake sturgeon,
Courtesy Photo
Ann Douglas
Cosmic, the lake sturgeon, rests in a tank at the Cheboygan Middle School.

Cheboygan students recently released their class pet — a juvenile lake sturgeon — into the Black River.

WCMU's Teresa Homsi led a small team of student reporters from the middle school to cover the event. She brings us this audio journal from her field trip with the school.

Editor's note: This story was produced for the ear and designed to be heard. If you're able, WCMU encourages you to listen to the audio by clicking "listen" on the above audio play button. This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

There was nothing more exciting as a kid than getting to miss school and go on a field trip. And that's clearly still true, as a busload of mostly-4th graders can barely contain their excitement.

I'm sure Cosmic, the lake sturgeon, is also itching to get off the bus and out of its bucket. The sturgeon had been living in large tank at the Cheboygan Middle School for the last several months.

Students voted on its name, created sturgeon-related class projects and fed and took care of the fish.

Now, the 17-inch sturgeon is en-route to its future home. Three students from the newspaper club I coordinate at the school are prepared to document this moment.

"It's rainy, wilderness, there's trees everywhere," says a 6th grade student, describing the scene. "There's a dam right there. It's very gray."

We make our way down to the Kleber Dam on Black River, just outside of Onaway. Now, I hand over my notepad and microphone to the student reporters.

"And you hold that, boom, there you go, and you point that toward the sound," I say to a student. "Let's go get that fish in the water, okay? I want to hear it!"

Ann Douglas, a teacher at the school and coordinator with the Sturgeon in the Classroom program, acclimates Cosmic to the river's conditions.

"The temperature of his water is warmer, way warmer than temperature of the river, so I'm going to put some cups of river water in here," Douglas explains.

Cosmic is then released, and the group bids the fish farewell.

"Alright, here he is guys," Douglas says, holding up the fish. "Look how big he is — he wants to go! Ready?"

"Bye, Cosmic!" the group cheers as Douglas gently puts the fish in the water.

In typical event-coverage fashion, the student reporters take the lead, getting reactions from their younger peers.

"What was your reaction when they released the sturgeon? And why did you want to come see the sturgeon get released?"

"Very excited," answers a 4th grader. "I was in Mrs. Douglas' class, and I was very interested in the sturgeon … because I learned that they can grow up to be over ten feet long.”

To another student, "what did this to bring to you? What did you think when you saw the sturgeon released?"

I'm kinda sad, but I'm happy," a 3rd grader responds. "Because I'm happy he's going into his good habitat, but I'm sad because I really liked him ... We drew pictures of him a lot."

Jay Woiderski, president of Sturgeon For Tomorrow, the local nonprofit that coordinates the sturgeon conservation programs. He addresses the group.

"So did Mrs. Douglas teach you all about sturgeon all year here?" Woiderski said. "You know everything there is to know about sturgeon?"

He tells the student reporters the significance of being a part of the sturgeon release.

"The most important part is not what it is for me, it what it means for these students," Woiderski said. "Fifteen to 25 years from now will be the next time it comes up here to spawn... I'm not going to be here. These kids hopefully will be doing what I'm doing now to preserve these fish for the next 25, 50, 100 years."

Cosmic is essentially micro-chipped, and previous sturgeon class pets have turned up again in the wild.

"So Cosmic is not completely lost?" I ask.

"No, he's not," he says.

"Alright, Lily, any questions for Jay? No? Okay."

Forty students, two teachers, two aides, one principal and a stray reporter (that's me) are all accounted for on the bus to return to the school.

We're only missing one attendee from the field trip — a prehistoric fish that's now swimming freely along the river.

Editor's note: The newspaper club is Teresa's service project through the Report for America program. Homsi recently received a Broadcast Excellence Award for Community Involvement by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters for her work with the students. The Cheboygan School Chronicle produces two print editions a semester for the middle and intermediate school.

Teresa Homsi is an environmental reporter and Report for America Corps Member based in northern Michigan for WCMU. She covers rural environmental issues, focused on contamination, conservation, and climate change.
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