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Learning with hands-on experience

October 19, 2012
Emily Siegmon - News Staff Writer , The Alpena News

ALPENA - Fourth grade Besser Elementary School students from Gretchen Rea's class participated in a variety of environmental activities at Island Park on Friday. Stephanie Gandulla, media out outreach coordinator of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, said the class had an opportunity to do on-site testing at the park after prior training through the B-WET grant.

"Right now, we have a total of 18 classes that have been trained and are working on doing their own site projects in the Thunder Bay rivershed," Gandulla said. "Today, we have five stations sets up along the park and are working with community partners to enhance hands on environmental education."

One of the community partners in the project is the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which had a station set up about water quality monitoring, led by Joseph Gerbyshak, fish biologist.

Article Photos

News Photo by Emily Siegmon
Parent volunteer Tim Couture and his nine-year-old son Caden worked together sorting through river samples to identify macroinvertebrates based on insects.

"We're monitoring macroinvertabrates in the water by sorting through water samples to identify macroinvertabrates, based on insects," Gerbyshak said. "The kids are doing all of the work and are sorting the samples, I'm just here to facilitate."

Nine-year-old Caden Couture said he learned a lot and had fun participating in the water monitoring station.

The students also spent time barking trails, led by Roger Witherbee of the Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary board. He said overall, barking trails is one of the students favorite activities, and is thankful to use the island as an outdoor laboratory for classes.

"Helping out the trails and barking them is fun, this is by far my favorite station," nine-year-old Luke Tucker, said.

Ten-year-old Dakota Suszek said he enjoys using the wheelbarrows and raking, but water quality testing was one of his favorite stations.

"We are all here to facilitate place based environmental education. We want kids to be involved in hands on projects that will contribute to the community," Nick Myers, program coordinator of the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative, said.

Myers led a station where students worked together on water quality monitoring and chemical testing.

One of the last stations focused on journaling. Sarah Waters, education coordinator of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, said each student found a spot to record what they observed at the park during the crisp fall day.

"They used all of their senses to record what they saw. They will come back in the spring and find that same spot and observe again, making comparisons and noting changes," Waters said. "This is an exciting project, we're happy to be partners, outside, learning and reflecting."

Emily Siegmon can be reached via e-mail at or by phone at 358-5687.



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