Students make river their classroom

REED CITY — Fishing, camping, swimming and tubing are just regular parts of life for many Michigan families with the multitude of rivers surrounding them. One local river is getting a lot of attention lately thanks to the efforts of teacher Dave Carlson and his second year of ALPS students.

The ALPS (Accelerated Learners Program Sequence) was developed last year as an alternative to Reed City High School students traveling to the Math and Science Center at Ferris. Freshmen entering the program take a two hour biology course, learning about and using the scientific method in a series of experiments that take them outside the classroom.

Carlson, an avid fisherman, has a personal interest in the studies he performs with students along the Hersey River. With ten years of data collected from the river, mostly along the site of Linear Park, Carlson is more than pleased to be able to check out different sites these past two years with students.

“It was too hard to get it all done in a one hour time block,” Carlson explained.

“With the two hour class, we can just walk to the site we are studying and do the experiments all during class time. We take four trips in the spring.

“Students need to experience more about science than just lectures.”

The study site for this year’s class is at the newly reconstructed bridge on Craft Road. This is a little further downstream from last year’s site accessed from Church Street near the Waste Treatment Plant.

“That was an important study since the site was thought to be the most polluted along the river ,” Carlson added.

This area of the river was home to industrial sites which contributed to it’s pollution over the years. The results of that study gave the area 84 points, or B grade, in overall health of the ecosystem. The focus of study for the site this year will again be on vegetation, pollution, erosion, macroinvertabraes and water quality, which all make up the final grade.

So far trips to the river site have been promising. The weather has cooperated and students were getting right down to business, but in their fun outdoor environment instead of within the four walls of a typical classroom.

“I like getting out of the classroom and coming here. It’s so peaceful,” Hailey Pendley commented, clipboard in hand, ready to record what fellow students might find as they wade through the river stirring up vegetation.

“ It’s really great to bring them out to the river and find the species that thrive on little to no pollution.” Carlson said, excited about their discoveries.

Referred to as the “big three”, students collected and counted the presence of mayfly, snowfly and caddisfly lymphs, which point in the direction of a pretty healthy river. The search was also on for who could find any crayfish, of which the class ended up with about a dozen.

Water quality tests performed will also give a lot of information about the rivers health. The school district helped to purchase electronic testing equipment much like the DNRE uses, making the results more accurate than using small water kits.

A total of four trips will be made to the river and then the hard work of compiling the information begins. A slideshow presentation by the students, “The Status of the Hersey River – 2012”, will reveal the complete results to a panel of science professionals and the community at 6 p.m. on May 30 in the RCHS cafeteria.