Gorham students to study river health

GORHAM — Gorham High School students will have the unique experience of collaborating with other schools and collegiate scientists for the next few years as the science department participates in two river studies on the Androscoggin. Science teachers Keri Wade and Sarah Clemmit explained the studies and how they will tie into the curriculum to the GRS Cooperative School Board in Randolph on Tuesday evening.
"Keri and I firmly believe that science is a doing thing," Clemmit told the board as she explained how these two projects would elevate the science experience for the students beyond theory and into practice. "We jumped at this opportunity," she said, noting that the state standards and common core standards upon which curriculum is based are moving toward more scientific inquiry.
Both of Clemmit's Honors and Level 1 Chemistry classes, primarily made up of 11th graders, will focus on a study with the Dartmouth Superfund Research Program that will examine mercury pollution downstream of the former chlor-alkali facility that is now an EPA Superfund site.
Wade's Aquatic Biology class, populated by 10th through 12th graders, will operate under invitation from The Marine Sea Grant, the University of Maine and the Schoodic Education and Research Center (SERC) Institute (of Acadia, Maine). That class will participate in a pilot program "created to support a scientist-teacher-student partnership" that specifically examines the effects of culverts on stream ecology.
The Dartmouth study is also connected to SERC through it's citizen science projects and will allow the students in those classes to contribute their "data to a regional database that researchers at the University of Maine – Orono are using to understand mercury bioaccumulation patterns," according to the project abstract submitted to the GRS board.
Clemmit explained that her classes had already been out to the river and collected 24 dragonfly larvae and six crayfish samples to be sent to Dartmouth for testing. Once the testing is completed the students will then analyze the data. Key learning goals include formulating and testing a hypothesis, as well as building on knowledge from earlier science courses to "develop a better understanding of watershed science, local aquatic insects, and chemical pollutants," Clemmit wrote.
Gorham is one of only three high schools participating in the Dartmouth study, along with high schools in Woodstock and Claremont. Uniquely, however, Gorham is the only participant with a known point-source of mercury. "We're pretty excited," said Wade.
The mercury study will take place throughout the fall and the students will be responsible for preparing presentations in the form of a research paper and poster sessions just prior to the school's second semester open house.
The Aquatic Biology class will undertake their study in the spring as they serve as a pilot program that is well-placed to study culverts and their effect on the watershed. "It just kind of tied right into my curriculum," said Wade. Pointing out Gorham's geography, Wade told the board that everyone "jumped at the chance" to get in on this project. Gorham is nestled in a watershed basin, she explained, with culvert sites both plentiful and accessible for the class.
The spring class lasts only nine weeks, but the students will study macroinvertebrates, culverts and their effects on stream function. Wade explained that the students will share data with student researchers from other schools. She pointed out that the date will be aggregated and the students will also be able to collaborate with participating schools via Skype video conferencing.
Wade said her students will also be responsible for rounding out their field activity and scientific inquiry with a final project.