It’s Tuesday morning at Harry Hooge elementary. Logan Brickwood scans the tip of an alder tree on Balabanian Creek, a brook behind the school.
“I think it’s 50 meters tall,” he says.
Tiffany Copeland, a parent volunteer in Paula Howarth’s Grade 5 class, records estimates of today’s tree measuring group before they use a clinometer, an instrument that computes height.
Logan’s guess seems high, but it’s dead on. “I like to look at trees and nature,” he says.
The tree group is one of several Howarth and fellow staffer Nick Warren direct on alternate days to record information about the creek’s wildlife, water quality – ph, oxygen, turbidity – and plants.
Not long ago, Ross Davies of KEEPS brought live invertebrates and spoke about their role as stream health indicators. Today, a team with dip nets, buckets and “rescue trays” will compare aquatic worms, caddis and mayfly nymphs with drawings.
As usual, everyone is busy, including kids collecting garbage, and a group of ‘journalists’ who circulate, ask questions, and take photos. All data is taken back to class, shared, and used in science experiments (affects of urban runoff and lawn fertilization on stream health), writing, and other curriculum.
“It’s fun to go out and identify bugs instead of just doing it from books,” says Taylor Mckee, Logan’s classmate.
Taylor sees kids keeping garbage out of the creek now. “When we started, we got four bags of garbage. I didn’t know people littered so much. In my class, though, I think they stopped because if things go into the creek, it affects all the wildlife.”
Makenna O’Neill likes the change. “I like helping the environment so it will be a better place for people to visit after school.”
Makenna takes relatives to the creek to show them things she’s discovered. “Last time, we found a bear print.”
On Thursday, it’s Mr. Warren’s class at streamside. “I’d never been here before this,” admits student, Diana Bitoiu. “This got me outdoors, away from the TV.”
“I like seeing all the cool, different bugs,” says Jackson Longmuir. Learning how to measure the height of trees was another highlight. “Once you’ve done it, it’s pretty easy,” Jackson says.
Santina Bassanese sums up research in Balabanian Creek this way: “I don’t like staying indoors playing video games. We get to explore in nature.”
Warren agrees. “Hands-on stuff often works better than textbooks.
“You know something works when kids are talking about what they’ve done at the creek, and taking ownership of it.”
This is the second time students from Hooge have combined an environmental study of Balabanian Creek with curriculum. In 1996, Grade 7 teacher Keith Rogalsky received Salmon Habitat funding to restore the area and involve kids in science integration and stewardship. This year, Rogalsky shared his knowledge with Howarth and Warren in preparation for their program, which uses equipment Rogalsky acquired.
Balabanian Creek is known to support coho salmon, cutthroat and rainbow trout. Recommendations were made to sustain and improve its rearing habitat. The continuing stewardship of the creek by students, teachers, and parents at Hooge argues for all levels of government support in the name of habitat restoration and education.
Other good news:
• Parents at Hooge raised funds to convert a bare piece of ground into a garden, picnic site, stage, and area where students can gather and enjoy the outdoors.
“The kids planted everything here,” says Nicki McKee (Taylor’s mom) . “They like to water the plants, and weed.”
• June 4th environmental organizations, charities, and unions darken their websites (www.blackoutspeakout.ca/take_action.php) to protest Conservative government cuts to environmental protection. Locals rally 2:30 p.m., June 2nd outside MP Randy Kamp’s office.
• ARMS has a Hydro grant of $10,000 to convert a mud flat on the Alouette to spawning habitat for coho, chinook, pink, chum, and cutthroat.
Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.