A classroom filled with first-graders at Lockeford Elementary excitedly waited their turns to check out the newest residents of their classroom Friday. They are of the tiny, pink variety, and had just been chauffeured by bucket straight from their “maternity ward.”

The seven salmon eggs that were carefully placed in their new home — a small aquarium kept at a comfortable temperature of 54 degrees — started the day in the Mokelumne Hatchery, just a small fraction of the 7 million eggs produced this year.

The hatchery has one of the best survival rates of eggs developing into fish, said Michelle Workman, supervising fisheries biologist with the Lodi East Bay Municipal Utility District office. She said 90 percent survive, and 6.4 million fish get released into the wild.

For now, the 31-day-old eggs will spend the next month or so, until hatching, under the watchful eyes of the first grade class and their teacher, Jenna Pal Freeman.

“They are very excited,” Freeman said about her students. She plans to teach them about the life cycle of the salmon, and teach them how to take care of the rivers and streams that is their natural habitat.

Principal Mike Rogers credits Freeman’s initiative, effort and out-of-the-box thinking in bringing the new teaching tool to the school. He said the school plans to spread the learning throughout the school’s curriculum — from science to math to drawings and the making of charts. Although it’s a first grade project, all the students have expressed excitement about the project, and several classes have already voiced interest in seeing their new charges released into their natural habitat after hatching.

The Lockeford first grade class is among the 50 classrooms spread throughout the San Joaquin, Calaveras and Amador counties that will be tending to their salmon eggs until February. Kathy Grant, the City of Lodi’s watershed program coordinator, and administrative clerk Yesenia Monarrez made the trip up to the hatchery to pick up the eggs, and got a short tour of the hatchery from Smith. He showed them the large tanks of water, kept cool with a constant circulation of water from the nearby river, with fish in various stages of development. In a long wall filled with drawers, eggs about to hatch live in compartments, awaiting the next step in their development.

Freeman will also be preparing the students for the next step of the journey when the eggs return to the river.

“We will have to let them go, because that is where they came from,” Freeman said.

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