P-TECH, School 7 students partner to learn about lake monitoring

Submitted Photo The 70 students who participated in the Wright Park Beach Cleanup in October collected nearly 100 pounds of garbage. That’s more than a pound of trash per pupil.

Lake Erie is a crucial component to many aspects of life in Chautauqua County. Tourism/recreation, agriculture and the regional economy are all intertwined with the health and wellness of the fourth-largest of the Great Lakes.

Two groups of local students joined up to learn more about Lake Erie’s environmental issues and worked together to have a positive effect on this body of water with a surface area of nearly 10,000 miles.

Students from Julie Sek’s living environment and Rich Siegel’s algebra classes at the WNY P-TECH STEM College & Career Academy at the LoGuidice Educational Center of the Erie 2-Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES recently worked with Marcella Dolce and Cady Dunning’s fifth-graders from School 7 in Dunkirk to become Lake Erie stewards.

The teachers collaborated in arranging a meaningful watershed education experience to build Great Lakes knowledge by forming ongoing relationships with researchers and environmental partners while involving students in engaging in hands-on experiences. About 25 P-TECH freshmen and 45 fifth-graders were engaged in the effort.

The students gathered to participate in the International Coastal Cleanup at Wright Park Beach in Dunkirk.

After a presentation from Nate Drag from the Alliance for the Great Lakes, the students were able to collect approximately 95 pounds of trash from the beach. Each team of students categorized the trash and recorded the types of trash found on data sheets that were then sent to the Ocean Conservancy and combined with the International Coastal Cleanup data.

After the cleanup, the students enjoyed a presentation by Don Einhouse of the U.S. Department of Environmental Conservation, Fishery Division.

He then used a fish seine in the lake to look for small fish, a process used to identify and monitor some of the smaller fish along the shorelines. They were able to capture a few native juvenile shiners. A few student volunteers also joined in this process and were able to catch a few more juvenile fish.

The P-TECH students were able to continue with a brief presentation by Einhouse and staff about many of the other ways the lake can be monitored when looking at fish and other aquatic organisms.

The P-TECH students used the information they gathered throughout the experience to complete a project-based learning activity in which they investigated a fictitious lake that was murky and unhealthy for fish and people. The students assumed the role of scientists by testing water from this lake to determine the levels of phosphates and nitrates. This data provided evidence about the water quality. Based on this evidence, students could identify the likely source or sources of the contamination.

To wrap up the project, the P-TECH students used their findings to choose which proposal ideas should be put into place by designing and presenting a proposal to the supervisor of the city where the fictitious lake was located. This role was played by Richard Purol, who is both the supervisor for the town of Dunkirk and co-chairman of Chadwick Bay Regional Development. The presentations not only outlined their findings, but also allowed students to consider the stakeholders’ views and impacts on the people in an economic, environmental and social aspect as well.