MAHOPAC, N.Y. - 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 in a Pound Ridge Reservation stream in Pound Ridge.

The purpose of the research was to determine if the water was safe enough for them to release the trout eggs the student have been raising in their classroom.

More than 50 students examined the stream water and surrounding area for macroinvertebrates to determine if there were signs of pollution.

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“Macroinvertebrates are creatures that do not have a spine, such as a crayfish, snail, and insects like dragonflies,” said Paige Bonder, a student in Ceribini’s class. “Many macroinvertebrates can’t survive if the water is polluted.”

The testing was done by kick-netting. A kick net is a square mesh net about 1 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 placing their macroinvertebrate findings in ice cube trays and using dichotomous keys to determine what level indicator species they are,” Cerbini said.

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 macroinvertebrate means the stream is not polluted,” said Sully Hunter, a student in Dore’s class.  

A crawfish with a missing claw was one of the many macroinvertebrates the students found and examined.

“We learned that crawfish are somewhat sensitive to pollution and often time will fight with each other over territory,” Sully said. Cerbini kept the injured crawfish as a pet for her classroom which her students named “Captain Hook.”

 “We get to see the claw come back a little every day,” Paige said.

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.

Laura Lee Holmbo is the communications consultant for Mahopac School District