SPOTLIGHT: Environmental Conservation & Restoration’s Happy Week 2023


Photo by Huck Morrone

Students being briefed on one of Happy Week’s final challenges

The Environmental Conservation and Restoration (ENCR) class and its state-of-the-art fish hatchery and fish ‘raceways’ have a long history at Casa Grande. Originally, the Environmental Conservation class was just another class in the M building that would fulfill the A-G requirement for science, seen as an easier alternative to Chemistry. One day in 1982, as Daniel Hubacker (the current head of operations at United Anglers of Casa Grande, below in green), tells it, a student confronted a previous teacher of the class Mr. Tom Fur about the depressing nature of how he presented the current state of our environment, with no solutions or hope for the future.

Daniel Hubacker evaluating the quality of student performance as “Father Nature.” (Photo by Huck Morrone)

Mr. Fur was distressed and he reached out to the community and found that Steelhead Trout, a species vital to the ecosystem and for the safety of our waterways (known as an Indicator Species), had been driven away from Petaluma because of pollution. More details of the intriguing history can be found on The United Anglers of Casa Grande’s (UACG) website

Daniel Hubacker and his predecessor, Tom Fur, have been dedicated each year since to creating a tight-knit battalion of students, armed with a deep knowledge of wildlife and backed by the UACG organization, who are ready to go out, change policies, clean waterways, collect data, and DNA samples, and most recently rescue and raise fully grown endangered Coho Salmon.

UACG website, 2021-22 student president Kate performing routine maintenance of the CGHS raceways. (Photo by Huck Morrone)

The student training involves many things, including an annual week-long survival simulation named “Happy Week” which refers to its design around high school students’ two greatest challenges: dressing in bright colors and staying positive. These events, whether to rescue fish, collect data, or other pursuits, require expertise, knowledge, and an excellent ability to work as a team. To prepare them for this, they are required to work through a simulation where they are on a sinking ship, and they have to bargain for resources. This allows them to deeply understand safety practices surrounding water, a medium they will often work closely with in the field. Negotiation and teamwork skills are built when working on the application of their simulated resources.

Students expressing their dedication to the craft. (Photo by Huck Morrone)

This week, we have seen ENCR students in their bright colors, doing team-building activities, learning dances, and practicing vigilance and other survival skills. Thursday, one of the final days of Happy Week, a large portion of the student body, including myself, was treated to a flash mob in the OLE during break. As I discerned from Mr. Hubacker’s announcement during the event, the ENCR students performed to gain resources in their simulation. The level of coordination for a flash mob of 130 students with choreographed dancing to music shows extremely advanced planning and teamwork skills. The challenge of public humiliation shows that students are ready to overcome humiliation and fear to achieve their goals. 

This activity and others are surely one of the reasons UACG has been able to garner so much support from the community to have such advanced facilities. Most importantly, UACG is a success story. For years, the students lobbied officials, picked up trash and removed large debris from waterways, raised fish from eggs, and raised otherwise doomed adult fish.

Sign on the Casa entrance to the hatchery. Come take a free tour! (Photo by Huck Morrone)

Today, the environment of the Steelhead Trout, and their native Petaluma population is completely restored, and the Casa students continue to improve our community in many ways like raising critically endangered Coho Salmon with the oversight of the California National Guard.