CASTLE ROCK - The fence outside Castle Rock Elementary School will be covered with hundreds of fish by this afternoon.
Not just any fish.
There are rainbow striped fish. American flag fish. Peace symbol fish. Even skeleton fish.
Collectively they're known as "dream fish," and they represent the Stream of Dreams program that spent the past week at the school.
Started in Canada 10 years ago, the program teaches elementary school students about the importance of clean rivers and streams and how to prevent pollution that kills fish. Stream of Dreams representatives worked with every class in the school this week, giving them a science lesson as well as a chance to decorate their very own wooden dream fish.
"We want everyone to know not to pollute the water," said sixth grader Byanca Lezama as she painted a red fish with black polka dots Friday. "We wouldn't like it if people dumped trash were we live."
Stream of Dreams Executive Director Joan Carne said she was shocked when someone poured poison down a storm drain, killing 5,000 fish in her neighborhood stream. She began educating children and communities that storm drains flow directly into rivers. The organization has worked with more than 100,000 children since then, mostly across Canada. Castle Rock is the farthest south they've gone in the United States.
Castle Rock second-grade teacher Holly Newburn is from Canada and heard about Stream of Dreams from friends back home. The school solicited donations for some of the material and the Parent-Teacher Organization pledged money to help cover the two presenter's travel and lodging costs. It cost $4,500 to bring the program to Castle Rock, with some expenses offset by donations of materials.
"It's a PTO-sponsored event, but it's really a community event," Newburn said, referring to all the donations. "And it almost seems like it was designed specifically for Castle Rock, with the river right here and so many families who fish. ... The kids have been so excited to show off their fish and tell their parents about the watershed."
Carne told the students she knows fishing is important in their community and said that's why it's so important to make good choices about what goes into drains and rivers and streams.
Car washing for example, can be done at a car wash or on grass or graveled land to avoid the soap from running off concrete and into the storm drains. And environmentally friendly cleaners can be used to avoid chemicals from ever entering either storm drain or sewer systems.
"You have more power than you know," Carne told students Friday. "I think 100,000 young people could change the world."
The dream fish - 700 in all - were decorated by every student, teacher and school employee this week. They'll be attached to the school's fences today to create a winding river pattern in a rainbow of colors. Work begins at 8 a.m. and will last most of the day.
The goal, organizers said, is to remind people about clean water issues every time they pass the mural.
"When people see it they can remember that fish are more important than we sometimes think," said fourth grader Michaela Medina. "And they'll know not to pour anything down the drain that doesn't belong there."