AP Environmental class tests the waters

April Alix and Tara Tsakraklides

Students evaluate the water quality of the ponds at Blackstone Park, impacted by runoff from local communities.

An upper school AP Environmental Class on Sept. 14 made the short trip to nearby Blackstone Park to test the water quality of two ponds there, one that’s fed by runoff from the local community and the other that gets its water from a spring.

The experience was possible thanks to April Alix, with the Providence Parks Association, who encourages local schools to use city parks as outdoor laboratory spaces. The Parks Association has equipment classes can use and April is able to help run a lab such as this.

“It’s a free resource that Providence has provided for schools to be able to access and use,” said science instructor Tara Tsakraklides. “So even teachers that don’t feel necessarily comfortable coming into the field, April can lead those groups.”

The objective is to be “looking at differences between the two ponds:, the water quality, the types of plants, the types of insects and other mammals that we might find — all based on the two different kinds of water inputs,” Tara adds. “What we’re most likely to see is more nutrient pollution from runoff of homeowners fertilizing their lawns and how that has an effect on pond life.”

At the community-fed pond, some students evaluated nutrient levels while others waded right in to look for macroinvertebrates. “That’s one way you can tell the health of the lake, by what species are thriving and what species are missing or absent,” Tara added. (Some of those thriving species — a pair of snapping turtles — gave the students who found them quite a surprise!)

Students were not able to explore the waters of the spring-fed pond, so instead they used observation to study it.

“Observation alone can tell you the health of a body of water. You don’t always have to do chemical testing. For example, duckweed floating on the service of Blackstone Pond tells you that there are nutrients in the water from fertilizer. Just looking at the plants indicates whether you have pollution or not” and can help determine whether water testing is needed, she explained.

As expected, the runoff pond had more nutrients (like nitrates and phosphates) coming from lawns. More nutrients leads to an overgrowth of algae and can cause decreased oxygen.

All in all, Blackstone Pond is a great local resource for students to learn “just down the road from Moses Brown School,” Tara emphasized. Students got access to a hands-on field laboratory practically in their backyard, to be outside on a beautiful day – and they got to immerse themselves (some, literally) in a greater understanding of the countless complexities of even a small pond, and how the local environment can have a significant impact.