Northbrook seventh-graders learn to test the waters
Brady Rassin, 12, of Northbrook, never imagined what he'd take away from spending a half-day learning about wildlife living near the Chicago River when he and his classmates spent class time working at Trail Through Time at Techny Prairie Park and Fields.
He said it was fun getting a chance to examine parts of the environment he'd explored many times before and yet, through conservation work they engaged in, learn of things he'd never known.
"If you find creatures that are tolerant to a lot of stuff that means the water isn't that good, it's not clean," Rassin said. "But, if you find ones that aren't good in dirty water, then the water's pretty nice."
Rassin is one of a number of students in the seventh grade at Northbrook Junior High School who spent time assisting Northbrook Park District workers and delving into some conservation work Friday.
As part of devoting a half-day of school to ecology, teachers and park district workers set up five different stations for students to rotate around as they completed their reports. Among the environmental science topics explored were restoration, conservation, water quality and invertebrate testing.
Mike Frye, a seventh-grade teacher, explained those on staff like to provide hands-on activities, such as the field trip to Trail Through Time, to support the classroom experience.
"This is a great way for the students to see some real life applications," Frye said. "We talk about how this is the work ecologists will do to evaluate the health of a stream. It's really tough to have a number associated with how healthy a stream is. You've got to get out there and see what's living in there and compare it to some known indexes that say, 'OK, this is a healthy stream or this isn't a healthy stream.'"
Frye noted the growing popularity of topics in ecology and environmental science at the global level, and said that curiosity resonates just as well among those in Northbrook.
"We have a lot of students that say this is something they want to do for a service project that might be tied into something that they do at church or something that they do as part of their bar and bat mitzvah," he said. "We love to see that this isn't just a one-off, but the kids really take this forward and move on."
Pam Mendelson, another seventh-grade teacher, said it brings great excitement being able to share her love of conservation work with students. The scientific findings they're collecting and examining are hoped to stir student interest, she said.
"The kind of cool thing is we're not finding any chlorine in the water at all," Mendelson said. "The nitrate levels are actually pretty low, which is also very good. The dissolved oxygen is well within the range and the pH is right in the range we wanted."
Mendelson has been doing conservation work in the area for the last nine years. She said findings for water quality have not changed all that much over time, but their approach to testing has changed.
She noted that they have a good standard for comparison in testing the river and retention pond water, and said that provides a good indicator of health.
"We're looking at a small pond that isn't aerated, but it actually has decent dissolved oxygen for not being aerated," she said. "The river they've actually put rocks in it to make it flow over and fall so that it'll get more oxygen."
Mendelson tried to explain her curiosity behind what's being noted by students working at the macro-invertebrate station.
"I was really curious to know what would happen at that station just because of what the village has done with the flood management that comes over here and whether they'd see a difference. We're not seeing a difference in terms of the chemicals that are in it," she said.
Vanya Zhadodich, 12, of Northbrook, was trying to determine the pH level, or the acidity, of the river water.
"I like that we get to go out and have an experience seeing what's going around in Northbrook," Zhadodich said.