By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published February 5, 2016
LILBURN—At St. John Neumann Regional School in Lilburn, third-grade teacher Karen Hoban is known as the “crazy fish lady.”
“It’s my fellow teachers that added the ‘crazy,’” said Hoban of the nickname.
Hoban introduced the Trout in the Classroom program at the school after partnering with Trout Unlimited, an organization working to keep rivers and watersheds environmentally safe and to conserve fish habitats. Hoban’s students are able to help raise trout from eggs to fingerlings and then release them into the Chattahoochee River.
In addition to coming up with the moniker, Hoban’s fellow educators voted her teacher of the year for St. John Neumann.
“It really was such an honor,” she said. “Nothing feels better than your peers feeling that way about you.”
An Atlanta native, Hoban is a graduate of Christ the King School and St. Pius X High School.
“Catholic education has been at the center of my world,” she said.
Hoban said she is eager each morning to get to work.
“I wanted to be a teacher from the time I was a little girl,” she said.
Hoban’s father encouraged her to explore other career options, and so she took a different track initially. She earned a bachelor of science in psychology from Georgia State University.
Hoban began working as an instructional aide at St. John Neumann in 1999 when her own three children, now grown, were students there.
“I knew I was meant to be here,” she said. “My heart is here. It’s my second home.”
Ultimately, Hoban earned a master of arts in teaching from Brenau University.
After serving as instructional aide for fourth grade for five years, Hoban spent the next three years working as the school’s Rainbows facilitator. Before there was a guidance counselor on staff, the Rainbows program offered support to children who had experienced death, divorce, or other life-altering events.
She has since taught both second and third grades. Hoban is also moderator of the school’s chess club and prepares club members to compete in a springtime chess tournament each year. Children learn the etiquette of the game, as well as develop critical thinking skills while having fun.
Reading and religion are her favorite subjects to teach. When the class says morning prayers, she prays for all 25 of her children—her own three and the 22 in her class. A parishioner of St. Benedict Church in Johns Creek, Hoban’s consecration to Jesus through Mary at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers was also a catalyst to becoming a teacher.
“I have a real special devotion to Mary. It’s all through our day,” she said of how faith is woven into the classroom.
Hoban feels blessed to witness how faith comes so instinctively to young students.
“They make my faith so much stronger. I can’t imagine a job more fulfilling,” she said.
Trout project replenishes Chattahoochee River supply
Hoban is a proponent of inquiry-based learning, where students learn by asking questions, posing scenarios and actually doing, versus starting with memorization of facts.
Hoban shared a quote from Benjamin Franklin to illustrate how inquiry-based learning works: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
The Trout in the Classroom project is in keeping with this method of learning. The 500 fish eggs, shipped from a fishery in Washington, are in an aquarium in one of the school’s laboratory rooms.
The children watch and help their teacher monitor the pH, ammonia, nitrates and other levels in the fish tank. The students are hearing chemistry terms they will be studying in middle school science.
The fish eggs are nestled safely into a basket within the tank with bubbles of oxygen shooting toward the eggs from below.
“They need all that oxygen in movement,” explained Hoban.
“The reason we do this is because of the Buford Dam,” said Hoban.
When water is released periodically into the Chattahoochee from the dam at the south end of Lake Lanier, the power of it washes away many fish eggs before they can hatch.
The project is consistent with Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Laudato Si’.” It encourages students to care for the earth and to value all life.
“Everyone feels closest to God within nature,” said Hoban. “When we raise living things, we focus on things outside of ourselves.”
From day one, principal Alex Porto has backed Hoban’s Trout in the Classroom project, she said.
“He was totally excited and supportive. Over the years he has been involved with everything from attending the release to emergency repair of the filter on a weekend,” said Hoban.
The care of the fish until they can be released is a family affair. It’s the type of project which children enjoy sharing the details of at home.
Parents are invited to join the students when they travel for a field trip to release the tiny fish at the Jones Bridge Unit of the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area in Johns Creek.
“I didn’t know this was here,” is the reaction parents often have, said Hoban.
Frequently after discovering it they will take their entire family back to enjoy time outdoors.
With a more urban, technology-oriented environment, projects such as this allow young people to reconnect with God, the teacher said.
“Children have lost the stillness they need to form that bond with Christ,” said Hoban. “They’re losing touch with the natural world outside.”
Hoban also shares facts about the Chattahoochee River with the children, including that it supplies drinking water for some 3 million people, yet is one of the most endangered rivers in the United States.
“It’s more fun when you actually see something instead of reading it,” said student Kirra Diaz.
“Mrs. Hoban is a lot of fun,” said classmate Elise Rubin.
“If children are happy and want to come to school, they will learn,” said Hoban.