August 10, 2022

Land Trust Supports Hands-On Studies by Seekonk High School Students


Over the past 18 years, Advanced Placement (AP) Biology students at Seekonk High School have successfully completed a unit of study in Ecology during the summer prior to the start of the school year.  With the generous support of the Seekonk Land Conservation Trust (SLCT), these students have participated in an inquiry-based water quality research project at the Martin Wildlife Refuge by Burr’s Pond and along the Runnins River.  Since 2008, 10th grade Biology II students and their teachers have joined this watershed study, and students travel to two sites along the Runnins River.  The students collect data by scientific techniques and procedures to evaluate and assess the health of the river. This hands-on research allows them exposure to ecological concepts.

The SLCT invites two environmentally focused students from Seekonk High School every year to attend Board meetings and thus experience the work that goes into conserving land in our local community. Despite the pandemic having put the field research projects on hold for  2020-21, the two students were able to attend virtual Land Trust Board meetings and participate in activities. They consulted with the departmental teachers in charge of the program, Mrs. Angela Cunard and Mr. Matthew Wills about the experience and interviewed them about the research their biology students have done for the past decade. 
While engaged in graduate study at Bridgewater State University, Mrs. Cunard learned techniques and procedures to evaluate water quality by sampling data in both the field and in the lab.  She wrote grants and applied to SLCT for her AP Biology students. One grant allowed them to focus on the watershed utilizing twenty-four hour probes that were then analyzed by the students. With another grant, they purchased disposable cameras for data collection.  The 10th grade Biology students had a more hands-on approach and took invertebrate samples from uniquely different substrates to assess the health of the river, and also measured depth, width and velocity of the river at different points during field trips. They analyzed water quality with sampling and compared their lab results with reports from local labs sent out for testing.  

The students have presented their findings during ‘Arts in the Evening’ at Seekonk High School, the Watershed Access Lab Seminar at Bridgewater State College, and the Seekonk Land Conservation Trust Annual Meeting. Additionally, student posters have been displayed at the Seekonk Public and High School libraries. 
Collecting and studying the data provides the students with real life experiences and experiential learning opportunities to collect their own samples and analyze the results. The 10th grade Biology II students use their results to see how they fit within the normal parameters of similar rivers and then see how results compare over time to previous years at the Runnins River locations. The river has not been studied long enough or thoroughly enough to come to definitive conclusions about different aspects, but the research indicates obvious fluctuations in water volume between years of drought and heavy rainfall. The students have collected data from upstream and downstream sites on the Runnins River and it is evident that these fluctuations in water volume create enormous differences in the data.

Mr. Wills states “students often don’t see the environment that they live in and are often unaware of local biodiversity. An important part of this project is understanding how rivers and watersheds function and also sharing how impactful it can be to share the results with others. Certainly, there are very real consequences to people’s actions and more study over a longer period of time will provide more accurate measurements.”
The teachers are grateful to the Seekonk Land Conservation Trust for their continued interest and support over the past twenty years. The research project would not have lasted or continued into what it is today without Land Trust support. The opportunity to have students do real science in their own backyards is a terrific experience for our local budding scientists.
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Land Trust, conservation, Seekonk High School, students, recreation, Seekonk Land Conservation Trust, Martin Refuge, Cushing Reserve


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