Science Pond offers insight into harmonious freshwater life
CHELMSFORD, MA (Sept. 27, 2021) – There was an unexpected-yet-welcome renovation of a classroom at Chelmsford High School over the summer. Unlike all the classrooms in the school system, however, there are no desks, chairs, or whiteboards. Instead, there are fish, frogs, a bit of algae and dozens of other species.
“I’m a huge advocate of ‘doing it outside,’” said Jon Morris, the K-12 Science Coordinator at Chelmsford Public Schools, outside said classroom, the aptly named Science Pond located behind the high school. “Every square footage should be used for learning. Even outside.”
Once drawing only sporadic use – and little to none during the worst of the Covid-19 outbreak – Mr. Morris is hopeful it will soon draw more visitors. He expects it will be used by as many as five classes regularly, including Environmental Science, AP Environmental Science, Biology, AP Biology and Environmental Studies.
The timing of the renovation couldn’t be better: Within the year, CHS is launching two new pathways in its Innovation Pathways program: Manufacturing and Environmental Life Sciences.
A student-led effort
Environmental science and biology classes used to walk 15 minutes to Crooked Springs on Graniteville Road to observe and do research. The Science Pond is merely behind a Science Department door.
The idea to bring it back to life came from two members of the Class of 2021, Sona Hanslia and Alisha Peeriz, both currently first-year students at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. On a National Science Honor Society online meeting last winter, someone made mention of the neglected state of the Science Pond, and it resonated with them.
Overwhelming at times, it became Ms. Hanslia and Ms. Peeriz’s passion project, though they quickly realized the effort required help from the School, Town of Chelmsford and even the state. “Once we researched about clearing the pond, we realized it wasn’t a job just for us,” Ms. Peeriz said. “So, we put together a presentation about what needed to be done and presented to the Superintendent (Dr. Jay Lang).”
Dr. Lang was quickly on board. Inquiries were made to the Town of Chelmsford Department of Public Works and the Conservation Commission regarding any restrictions the land might have. Initial plans for the design of rainwater discharge revealed the Science Pond was not a protected wetland, but rather a designed run-off from when the CHS parking lot was renovated.
“By a stroke of luck, we found out from the Town that it wasn’t a protected wetland,” Mr. Morris said, noting that protections for such run deep. “Dr. Lang was instrumental in getting the ball rolling.”
Ms. Hanslia and Ms. Peeriz contacted Ingeborg Hegemann, an adjunct professor at UMass Lowell and a renowned expert in wetland science. “She was awesome,” said Ms. Hanslia, an aeronautical engineering major at WPI. “She came with waders and let us walk in the pond. She gave us some ideas to help keep the pond clean and to keep it from getting to what it was before.”
The location, size and wildlife within the Science Pond means the learning potential is practically unlimited, though the utmost precautions will be taken. A local landscaping company cleared masses of overgrown brush and dredged the edge of the pond. A local home improvement business built a deck to slightly overhang the water’s edge and improve sightlines, which will accommodate all observers.
Garden beds were built by the Environmental Studies class through a grant from EcoRise, resulting in a cornucopia of vegetables and plants.
“It was a couple of long months where it seemed we talked about the Science Pond non-stop,” said Ms. Peeriz, who is majoring in Data Sciences. “But we’re happy it will be used for students to learn.”
Ms. Hanslia’s and Ms. Peeriz’s efforts did not go unnoticed. At the Class of 2021 Awards in June, Ms. Hanslia was named the recipient of the Ralph Sherwood Honorary Science Award while Ms. Peeriz received the Michael Tate Honorary Award for Science.
Plenty of species and a bright future
Despite its tranquil setting, the Science Pond teems with life. There are dozens of inhabitants. Minnows, perch, and sunfish have appeared, likely the result of fish eggs still intact despite consumed and digested by visiting ducks. Frogs dart from the pond’s edge as visitors approach. Someone introduced two koi over the summer. An underground hive of yellow jackets is entrenched in the hill at the Pond’s southwest end opposite the deck.
Other than the occasional falcon searching for a meal, there are no predatory or invasive species.
The Science Pond even has a natural replenishing system: After a downpour, the runoff from the upper parking lot offers a steady flow of water.
Fifteen pairs of waders have been purchased to allow students to venture into the two-to-three feet of water to conduct research.
“It is a liquid textbook,” Mr. Morris said. “Now the task is on us to maintain it.”
About Chelmsford Public Schools
The Chelmsford Public School District provides all students with multiple pathways to optimize their own potential for academic excellence, leadership, and social and emotional wellness. The mission of the Chelmsford Public Schools is to educate, engage, prepare, and empower well-rounded and knowledgeable learners to PERSEVERE through challenges, demonstrate RESPECT and INTEGRITY in their words and actions, are DEDICATED to their community, and display EMPATHY as global citizens while discovering and pursuing their full potential. This PRIDE-driven culture enables all members of the school community to support the growth and development of students. For more information, please visit www.chelmsfordschools.org.