Justine Davies

Student-scientists take to the river

By Justine Davies

This year, I wanted my students to discover a local ecosystem in their own backyard and to become citizen-scientists in evaluating the health of this local environment.

Since the Bronx River runs through our town just a few blocks past the Bronxville High School, it was a natural place on which to focus our attention. I enlisted the help of PhD student Naomi Schwartz of Columbia University to teach students about stream ecology and macroinvertebrates as indicator species of water quality. Ms. Schwartz came to my classroom twice to give the students a solid background before we took them out to the river to conduct research.

Students had nets, buckets and other simple tools that were used to collect and identify macroinvertebrates. Sadly, students found only a few of the hardiest species — those that are most tolerant of poor water quality. The class returned to the Bronx River for a second trip in the spring and did discover that fish can live in the river. We saw animal tracks, snails and shells. One student identified tree species along the river using dichotomous keys.

Although we did not find many living things in the Bronx River, students did discover that there is a whole ecosystem that runs through their town; an ecosystem that is home to wildlife, including birds, fish, mammals and insects. Students discovered that even freshmen in high school have the ability to work as a team, collect data, make observations and be scientists in their own neighborhood.

(Justine Davies is a biology and earth science teacher at Bronxville High School and a member of the Bronxville TA.)

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