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Fishing for knowledge

Brandi Boyd, a Clarke Community High School ag teacher, spends 40 hours as a fish biologist this summer through a partnership with SWCC

Brandi Boyd has taught in Osceola for 19 years. This June she was able to experience a different career and learn new things to take back to her students.

Boyd teaches agricultural classes at Clarke Community High and Middle schools in Osceola. As a part of the continuing education required of all teachers, she participated in the 2019 real world teacher externship experience through Southwestern Community College this year.

Boyd worked with Andy Jansen, Iowa Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist, who works out of the Mount Ayr Fish Hatchery managing the state lakes and waterways in an eight county area in southwest Iowa.

The experience

Boyd helped do population counts in some of the area water ways: Lake Icaria in Corning, Pierce Creek near Essex, and Little River in Leon.

In order to do the count, Boyd said they would electroshock the water for 15 minutes to stun the fish. Then they collected the fish with nets, weighed them, measured the length, collected breed data and then released the fish back to the water. The size of the lake determined how many times this process was repeated.

Boyd said it is important to know what kind and size of fish are in a particular lake so the DNR can stock it properly. If a certain type of fish is low, they will stock that lake with more of them. Boyd cited carp as a fish that is not prized in fishing.

“Fishermen don’t get excited about catching carp,” she said.

Jansen and the other DNR workers raise a variety of fish at the Mount Ayr Fish Hatchery in order to stock the lakes and ponds in their care. Boyd helped harvest some of those fish during her externship. She said the hatchery gets the fish when they are “fry” — about the size of a pinky fingernail — and grow them to “fingerlings” — two to five inches long depending on breed of fish.

Once the fish are harvested, they are taken to the lakes and released where they are needed based on the data collected from the population counts.


Boyd said the opportunity will give her a new perspective to bring back to her students.

“It makes more real-world connections for me,” Boyd said. “You can read about or have an idea about what a fish biologist does, but then once I was able to actually truly experience it, I feel like I have a richer deeper understanding and wealth of knowledge that I can share with my students.”

One area that Boyd said surprised her was the amount of math involved in the job: figuring the shocking rates, collecting and averaging the weights and lengths of the fish and compiling the data. She intends to incorporate the math into her lessons, bringing a real-world application to the things students learn in their core classes.

The program

SWCC’s Workplace Learning Network Coordinator Ann Schlapia, manages the externship program. She said this is the sixth year SWCC has offered it. Ten teachers from around the area took part this year.

Educators from region 14 are able to participate in a 40 hour paid professional work experience in a business or industry work environment. This program is possible through Region 14 Regional Planning Partnership, Green Hills AEA and SWCC’s workplace learning network.

“The benefits of an educator completing an externship are numerous,” Schlapia said. “Externships provide opportunities to learn and experience industry standards, earn credits toward license renewal, and take new ideas and resources back to classroom curriculum.”


Boyd went to high school in the smallest school in Iowa - graduating from Lineville-Clio High School in 1994. She completed her bachelor’s degree in animal science in 1998 and master’s degree in agricultural education in 2000 at Iowa State University and began teaching at Clarke Community High School in 2000.

She lives in Leon with her husband and three sons, ages 7 to 14. Boyd said one of the fun things about this experience was sharing it with her boys who love fishing and outdoor activities.

Boyd said she would definitely recommend the externship program to other teachers, but she would have to think hard about what career to experience if she were to do it again.

“My expectations are going to be super high now,” she said.

Boyd said the externship was an amazing experience.

“I love to challenge myself and love to learn new things which was a piece of why I chose this professional development,” she said. “As an educator — really just as a person in general — continuing to learn is a big piece of staying open-minded and just growing as a person.”

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