July 23, 2018

Turtles, trees and jackrabbits: Public school students head to the river

Posted by larryohanlon

NOTE: Across 350 kilometers of the The Middle Rio Grande River students and their teachers from kindergarten through college serve as field scientists for the Bosque Ecosystem Monitoring Program (BEMP). Bosque means ‘forest’ in Spanish, and refers to the vast cottonwood forest that straddles the Rio Grande. Currently there are 32 study sites, and over 1 million data points are collected each year by many local students who would otherwise have limited access to environmental education. This Albuquerque-based program shows how local science initiatives can connect people to their landscapes while helping inform resource management decisions.

By Kelly Steinberg

Summer at BEMP brings together some of our favorite people, the Horizons Albuquerque community! Horizons is a national summer enrichment program that addresses summer learning loss for public school students. Students return to the program each summer to study and grow together. They continue to get support from their Horizons teachers throughout the school year, at tutoring and monthly events. BEMP has been partnering with Horizons Albuquerque for the last 5 years. In between their reading, math, swimming, music, and art, each class makes time to explore and conduct research in the bosque with BEMP.

This June and July BEMP educators Liz, Laura, and Kelly met with the rising 5th through 8th graders each week to design and carry out experiments, collect data and prepare presentations. They tackled topics from cottonwood phenology to water chemistry. For the 3rd summer in a row, the 6th graders were in and out of the pond every week to check turtle traps. They caught painted turtles and snapping turtles, which they handled expertly as they took measurements. The 7th graders set up track plates to look capture mammal tracks in different parts of the bosque and found that mice are more active in sunny areas than squirrels are. The 5th graders did weekly observations of cottonwood trees, adding to our Nature’s Notebook phenological data. They used data that students have collected over the past 2 years with BEMP to understand how cottonwoods change with the seasons and year to year. The 8th-grade students got the chance to sample a lot of different field skills throughout the summer and help out with BEMP monthly monitoring and pitfall trapping. They finished up the summer by learning how humans impact the health of the Rio Grande and stormwater runoff. At the end of June, we loaded up the bus with an energetic team of middle schoolers who stayed up all night counting jackrabbits at Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, adding to a 16-year-old data set of the rabbit population.

Horizons students going into grades one through four also spent some time with BEMP, getting to know the bosque. Every Friday the younger students partner up with one of the older grades for some buddy learning. Young students, their buddies, and the BEMP educators ventured forth together to look for new and exciting things. We found animal tracks, cocoons, cottonwood seeds, yerba mansa flowers and so much more!

We are incredibly proud of all the hard work that the Horizons Albuquerque students and teachers put in this summer! Thanks for another wonderful summer of BEMPing!

Kelly Steinberg is a BEMP Educator and Environmental Education Association of New Mexico Board Member. This post was originally published here