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Academy Students Explore Field Science on Environmental Outings

July 26th, 2019

Buses rolled out of The Watershed Institute this week, taking 17 high school students on adventures in environmental field science that involved doing fish dissections, exploring ponds and planting trees as they learned about forest stewardship. 

Each of the five weeklong Watershed Academy offerings aims to show students a range of scientific activities and possible career paths during the summer break.  

Sixteen-year-old Ellie Chesebrough of Skillman said she thought this academy offering was the most interactive of the choices. “I’m considering environmental science as a major so I thought this academy would cover my interests.”

The week kicked off with a trip to Davidson’s Mill Pond Park where the students saw turtles, egrets, and other wildlife before they hiked along the pond’s edge to examine a beaver dam. The students met with Middlesex County Conservation Corps members who were working on trail restoration and invasive plant removal at the park. The students discussed the science behind protecting plants and soil from fungi and microbes. To wrap up the day, the Middlesex County Master Gardeners gave the students a tour of the flower and vegetable gardens.

Each day of the academy offered a fresh outing, from a behind-the-scenes tour of the Adventure Aquarium in Camden to hands-on dissection of fish with scientists at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.  The students also heard about academic and nonprofit efforts to restore populations of freshwater mussels and why these are good indicator species about the health of a waterway.

Accompanied by Watershed staff, the students learned about green infrastructure – rain gardens, green roofs and other elements – during a tour of the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center in Philadelphia, a former watermill that is now an urban environmental center in partnership with the city, parks and other entities.  What Fairmount portrays is its interpretation of the story of water in Philadelphia, said Ellen Freedman Schultz, Associate Director of the Fairmount Water Works. 

“I want them [the students] to learn how impressive and awesome the Philadelphia Water Department is – what they do, and how to teach others about water in fun and creative ways,” she said.

On their final day, the students learned how to survey forest health as they helped remove invasive species and transplanted trees in restoration projects on the 950-acre Watershed Reserve.

Joseph Sweeney, 15, of Hillsborough, summed up the academy’s goal, saying the trips to the mussel hatchery, the aquarium, Davidson’s Mill Pond Park and other places, were “mostly about how to maintain certain species and research how they live together.”

Added Katie Efremova, 15, of Rocky Hill, “I really like to experience nature and meet people with the same interests. I enjoy how people realize the environment is really important and that it’s up to us to help it.”

By Payton Tuorto, Media Intern

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