Seventh- and eighth-graders study Sturgeon Lake and Dairy Creek during restoration project

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - Michael Prince takes careful stock of what he sees in the Columbia River on Wednesday, Sept. 27, during a field study exercise jotting down his observations. Prince is one of many students at Sauvie Island Academy who are conducting their own study of how Dairy Creek and Sturgeon Lake will change over time, while the area is restored by the West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District.Seventh- and eighth-grade students at Sauvie Island Academy are taking part in a restoration project targeting Sturgeon Lake and Dairy Creek by compiling observations, taking photos and logging scientific data alongside experts who are spearheading the effort.

The students will be taking their own detailed observations of water quality, noting soil erosion, documenting the presence of macroinvertebrates, and collecting other data over the lifespan of the restoration project.

On Wednesday morning, Sept. 27, the students made a site visit to the property of a Sauvie Island resident, Jack Wilkins, whose land is bisected by Dairy Creek and has direct access to the Columbia River inlet.

Restoration of the lake and creek is an endeavor being pursued by the West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District. The goal is to restore water flow from the Columbia River through Dairy Creek into Sturgeon Lake, which is prime habitat for migratory fish species like salmon.

The opportunity allows students to get out of the classroom and observe work going on in their community. Science teacher Amber Horn also wanted students to exercise skills in multiple disciplines, not just scientific study.

By having students take on different roles within their groups, they can learn more about careers such as journalism, which requires interviewing skills, or as historians or project documentarians, which require note-taking skills, SIA science teacher Matt Radich explained.

Many students in the class enjoyed the multidisciplinary approach, which allows them to build on their areas of interest.

Mara Wilson, an eighth-grader, chose to act as a water quality specialist because of her personal interest in swimming. Often being in the water herself, Wilson wondered about the water quality for fish, she explained.

Ella Beebe, an eighth-grader, enjoyed being a project leader because the role allows her to interact with all of her team members and work with people she normally wouldn't have the chance to.

Maddie Meeuwsen, who was assigned the role of historian, and others did not get their first choice of jobs, but are still getting to learn something new in the process.

"Well I didn't want this job at first," Meeuwsen said, explaining that she wanted the role of journalist to develop interviewing skills. "But I'm learning to love it."

Restoring habitat

Over the life of the restoration project, which has been funded by federal grant money, conservation crews will dig out channels in the creek, remove invasive plants and install a bridge over Reeder Road where several culverts currently exist, but are dammed, to create a wider path for water to flow. Construction of the bridge is set to begin next summer.

Wednesday morning, Tom Josephson with the Columbia River Estuary Study Taskforce, or CREST, explained to students that blockage in the culverts under Reeder Road makes it difficult for water to pass through, hence inhibiting fish passage to the lake.

After a short walk, students paused briefly on a bridge passing over Dairy Creek to point out algae growing on the water, low water levels, and an abundance of invasive reed canary grass and indigo bushes. The algae indicates a lack of water flow and warm temperatures — two things fish species, like salmon, don't tolerate, Josephson discussed with the students.

The students then headed toward a Columbia River inlet on Wilkins' property, a short distance away from the bridge. Laura Taylor and Scott Gall are with the water conservation district and on Wednesday they acted as volunteers and community experts to help guide the students through the site visit.

Students will make several more site visits during the school year for samples and to observe the changing conditions of the creek, lake and river as restoration work progresses.

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