NORTH ADAMS -- They’re on a mission. They’re not afraid to brave jumping into water in 30-degree weather, nor do they have qualms with the slimy wriggling creatures they may encounter.
They’re a new group called the Hoosic RiverKeepers from Berkshire Arts & Technology Charter Public School in Adams, part of environmental science teacher Melissa Herliczek’s class. This year, she created the new project, which involves students in an ongoing field study of the Hoosic River.
Initially, Herliczek wanted students to collect and study insects in the water to determine pollutants. But she said the effects of Hurricane Irene has given the project a news spin.
"Many of the invertebrates perished. We’re now looking to see how long it will take for them to return to the stream," Herliczek said.
On Friday, she and nine of her students, all juniors, each put on a pair of waders, and got to work at their fourth and final study site. Heather Linscott, a physical education teacher at BArT and a former member of the Hoosic River Watershed Association, joined them.
Split into two groups, students recorded observations and collected data and samples from Notch Brook, a Hoosic River tributary located along The Cascades Trail in North Adams.
"It’s a good idea. It’s fun, we’re outdoors and learning stuff," said student Aidan Chicoine, jotting notes onto a field worksheet on a clipboard.
Upstream, his classmates used a special screen to dredge square-foot samples of material from the brook, then sort through the caught muck for larvae, flies and other species.
"I love it," said Dyllan McLear, picking through the mud with tweezers. He and his classmate, Danielle Milesi, managed to pick out about 15 insects, from tiny multi-legged bugs to some unidentified creatures that looked like worms or grubs.
"I’d rather be in physics, but this is all right," Ben Mullany said.
Herliczek, their teacher, said that over the next few weeks, the students will organize their data and analyze their water samples and found animal life. They’ll use new technology such as ProScope microscopes and imaging software to complete their tasks.
The final phase will be to interpret the results, which she hopes her class will present to the school and the community.
"So far, it’s been a really exciting adventure," said Herliczek. "I love being able to watch students being engaged by being outside, making a connection with nature, and bringing it back with them into the classroom."