Austin Road Elementary fifth graders elevated their status from students to field scientists earlier this fall when teachers Mary Jean Cerbini and Beth Doré tasked their classes with conducting a water-health study of the Water Pound Ridge Reservation stream in Pound Ridge, NY.
More than 50 students examined the stream water and surrounding area for macroinvertebrates to determine if whether there were signs of pollution. “Macroinvertebrates are creatures that do not have a spine like a crayfish, snail, and insects like dragonflies,” said Paige Bonder, a student in Mrs. Ceribini’s class. “Many macroinvertebrates cannot survive if the water is polluted,” she added.
The testing was done by kicknetting. A kicknet is a square mesh net about one meter wide and long with a pole handle on each side that is used to collect aquatic macroinvertebrates in a stream. “The students then classified them right in the stream by using placing their macrovertebrate findings in ice cube trays and using dichotomous keys and to determine what level indicator species they are,” said Cerbini.
The students were able to determine that the stream water was not polluted, and the trout eggs could be released when they reach the fingerling stage in the Spring. “I found a Dobsonfly in the stream which confirmed the water was healthy for the trout. By just finding one Dobsonfly out of 100 macroverabrates means the stream is not polluted,” said Sully Hunter, a student in Mrs. Dore’s class.
A crawfish with a missing claw was one of the many macroverabrates the students found and examined. “We learned that crawfish are somewhat sensitive to pollution and often time will fight with each other over territory,” said Hunter. Cerbini kept the injured crawfish as a pet for her classroom which her students named “Captain Hook.” “We get to see the claw back a little every day,” said Bounder.
The students’ study supports a grant from the Candreva Environmental Foundation. This New York state-based organization provides funding for local environmental education initiatives and projects that involve young people in environmental service.
The foundation was created in 1974 in memory of Dr. George Candreva, a Yorktown educator, journalist and visionary environmentalist. Since then, thousands of students in the region have participated in grant-supported activities that range from studying forest and aquatic ecosystems to developing a hands-on and student-run weather station.