Students gather to release shad into Anacostia River

A group of Maury students gather to release the shad they nurtured from birth. (Photo: Whitney Wild/NewsChannel 8)

A group of local students is taking action to help restore the population of an endangered species of fish that was once very common in the waterways around the D.C. Area.

It took more than a month, but late last week, thousands of students from across D.C., including first graders from Maury Elementary School in Northeast, released a group of shad they raised from eggs as part of a science experiment.

Overfishing, dams and water pollution nearly drove shad to extinction, but actions like these are a portion of the effort to restore the depleted population.

"It's pretty amazing that our school was able to take these little tiny eggs and learn about the whole process, and why it's important to put shad back into the Anacostia River," Elizabeth Herron, a Maury Elementary parent, said.

It all started in the lobby at Maury, where student plucked live eggs from dead ones and raised them before releasing them. Finally, when the fish were finally let go, they were serenaded by "farewells" and songs from students and parents on shore.

"We live in the nation's capital and we have a responsibility to environmental protection," Maury Elementary Science Coordinator Vanessa Ford said.

Washington D.C. and shad go way back. This type of fish was so plentiful in the 1700s that they were a major source of food and revenue for George Washington. In fact, dried shad is credited with saving Washington's troops from starvation at Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War.

However, by the 1950s, shad had all but disappeared from the Potomac River. More than half a century later, Ford hopes the lesson made a difference. She says the program has been so successful that they hope to adopt it into the school's regular science curriculum next year.