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Students research water quality

Students Katie Garret (left to right), Sarah Eustis and teacher Sharon Boardman pose on the University of Vermont research vessel, Melosira. (Submitted photo) Students Katie Garret (left to right), Sarah Eustis and teacher Sharon Boardman pose on the University of Vermont research vessel, Melosira.
Sarah Eustis and Katie Garret, students at Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington, are doing research to determine the health of two local streams and their impact on Lake Champlain.
 
It is more than research; it’s a way for them to put their faith in action.
 
“God created us as the caretakers of the rest of creation, so it’s our duty to protect the environment and protect other species,” Katie said.
 
The Research on Adaptation to Climate Change program in which they are participating is funded by the National Science Foundation through The Vermont Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, a program designed to fulfill the foundation’s mandate to promote scientific progress nationwide and to get students involved in research.
 
Rice has participated in the program for eight of its nine years.
 
Sarah and Katie began the project in June. It entails collecting water samples from Potash Brook and Bartlett Brook in South Burlington and sending them to St. Michael’s College for analysis regarding levels of phosphorous, suspended sediments and nitrogen. This helps determine the health of Lake Champlain, into which both streams flow.
 
The teens also collected insects from the bottom of the streams, as they are indicators of the quality of the water.
 
“Both streams are urban-impacted so we expect to find bugs that are tolerant of pollution,” said Sharon Boardman, a Rice science teacher who is working with the students on the project.
 
A third component of the students’ project is an experiment: Sarah and Katie made leaf packs – one with faux foliage, one with maple leaves and one with witch hazel leaves – to collect bugs to see if they have feeding preferences. They were analyzing those packs in January in the school lab.
 
The two students are scheduled to make a presentation at a symposium with other Vermont Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research participants in March.
 
“My main motivation is to get kids involved in doing field research…like they would do in college studying biology or ecology,” Boardman said. “Also, this gives them a chance to do original research.”
 
Sarah is considering studying environmental science in college; Katie might pursue a degree in classics.
 
Sarah sees that the project she and Katie have undertaken is contributing to care of the Earth. “We are learning that when the environment is not good we can come up with ways to fix it” like ensuring there is no construction close to the edge of streams to prevent erosion and the addition of sediment to the stream, she said.
 
Both students studied Advance Placement Biology with Boardman as juniors and are enjoying the stream project, which is an independent project and garners them no school credit.
 
The project included a week-long training last summer at St. Michael’s College in Colchester.
 
“It’s important to think of the long-term health of the environment in Vermont,” Katie said. “Polluted streams will end up killing off wildlife.”
 
Boardman wants to instill in her students the attitude of caring for the Earth that Pope Francis espouses in “Laudato Si’,” his encyclical on the topic. “We’re called to be stewards of the Earth, and by studying ecology and understanding how ecosystems work, students become better stewards of their planet.”


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Originally published in the 2017 spring issue of Vermont Catholic Magazine.
 
Last modified onTuesday, 07 March 2017 14:33
Cori Fugere Urban

Cori Urban is a longtime writer for the communications efforts of the Diocese of Burlington and former editor of The Vermont Catholic Tribune.

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