Last tests leave students all wet

HOWLAND — Students spent the final days of school before summer outside in Howland Township Park, taking a break from finals and getting a little real world dirt on their soles.

The students weren’t just fooling around, though, but measuring the quality of local water and having fun with one of their favorite teachers, Jason Lee, who teaches environmental science to mostly juniors and seniors.

William Eisen, 17 of Howland, and Chiara Fischer, 16, an exchange student from Saxony, Germany, were a part of a group of students who worked together to determine the quality of water in their hometown park.

“Some of these students didn’t even know there was a water source near their home park,” Lee said.

Fischer described the experiments she had learned about in Lee’s environmental science class with new vocabulary that included science terms like parts per million and nitrites and nitrates, the second being a harmful substance indicating pollution, she said.

“We were in groups measuring and looking for microorganisms using indicators to see if water was healthy or not. We didn’t use chemicals,” Fischer said.

According to Lee, many students, and people in general, think of testing for pollution only in terms of testing with chemicals, but not about observing nature.

“I try to take the kids on one active field trip,” Lee said.

Lee described this natural experiment in which students got wet gathering from different testing sites near the source of the river and further down to where water collects in a pond inside Howland Township Park.

Fischer said she had never been to the creek. As an exchange student, she was learning a lot and excited to be there in one of her favorite classes during her year abroad.

“I think it’s pretty cool that kids can do things outside of the school,” Fischer said.

“Kids go out and stir up the bottom, write down and record,” Lee said.

William Eisen, also one of Lee’s students, said students found may fly larva, snails and tadpoles in the exaamined waterways.

Eisen said the area near the water source and the pond indicated some animal life surrounding the water might be contributing to some of the pollution, but overall, the students foud the water to be healthy.

He described how the students used three spots in the river and different nets to collect water they expected to be full of organisms.

“Larvi found in the water are bioindicators,” Lee said.

During the experiment, students learned those harmful and helpful substances in part by using pH levels, the “type of litmus test you might remember from science class,” Lee said.

Getting wet did not seem to be a problem for students, or for Lee, who admitted to falling and being assisted by his students while collecting water with the various nets in part of the tributary and the pond of Mosquito Creek that empties into the Tiger Town area of the park.

The presence of microorganisms in the water was actually a good thing, Lee said. Stone fly, may fly and damsel fly nymphs were among those critters expected to be found within the water. The high organism content means the water is better, Lee said. He said many people think that all signs of life in a pond indicate pollution as the presence of algal blooms like those found in a high-nitrate water indicate the presence of fertilizer chemicals in the water.

“In this case, we are hoping to find life,” Eisen said.

And what about the park’s water source?

“Students actually found the water quality was good with a high microorganism content,” Lee said.

The signs of life are positive since runoff and pollution from sand at the bottom of the water can indicate pollution from toxic materials.

Lee said the students seemed to enjoy the break from end of year classwork and the 14 remaining students, minus the graduating seniors, were happy to get outside.

“They can see it hands on instead of reading it out of a book,” Lee said. ” It’s nice to get the students out to appreciate nature a little bit.”

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