Penn Manor students study the health of local streams as ‘watershed explorers’

Penn Manor School District  |  Posted on

Hambright Elementary students check the pH level of a local stream as part of a study on the local watershed.

Hambright Elementary School fifth-graders have been wading through the Little Conestoga Creek to conduct research to help make the local waterway a healthier habitat for trout. They’re participating in a project called “Watershed Explorers: Examining and Protecting Our Local Waterways,” funded with a $5,000 grant from the Lancaster County STEM Alliance. The project includes raising 200 rainbow trout from eggs and releasing them into the local ecosystem in the spring. But before students do that, they are learning about the needs of the fish and the human impact on the ecosystem.

To assess water health, they’ve been gathering data on the stream as it runs through Manor Township Community Park by checking water temperatures, sediment and pH levels and the presence of organisms. Students are working with experts from the Stroud Water Research Center and partnering with a National Geographic Explorer and wildlife photographer to document what they find. As part of the project, the students Skyped with Leonardo Lanna, a National Geographic Explorer based in Brazil, to hear about his fieldwork on the Boiling River in the Peruvian Amazon. Students also are preparing a presentation for the Little Conestoga Watershed Alliance and finding ways to visually represent their data by creating websites and Story Maps.

Teacher Katie Harnish, who is leading the project, said she was concerned the grant might not be implemented as planned because of restrictions related to COVID-19, but the visits to the streams have been successful. “As I watched my students joyfully learn, play and explore, I realized that this might have actually been the perfect time for the project,” she said. “Aside from the rich intellectual inquiry, this was also a social and emotional learning experience for my students.” Harnish said the experience has given students more appreciation for the outdoors and an interest in careers in science.