Over the course of five days in mid-May, Rocking the Boat’s On-Water Classroom welcomed the entire tenth grade class from the New Visions Charter High School for Advanced Math and Science II (AMS II). Zach White Stellato, the Living Environments teacher at AMS II, worked closely with Nina Sander, Rocking the Boat’s Director of Public Programs, to create a specialized field trip that would help his students prepare for their upcoming final and Regents examinations—and have a great time doing it!
Nina, along with Jamie Renée Smith, our new Assistant Director of Public Programs, and the On-Water Classroom Program Assistants, set out to engage the AMS II students in hands-on science. They taught the kids to row; helped them collect Bronx River water samples, which they tested for turbidity, dissolved oxygen, and pH, and plankton samples that they examined under microscopes; and led “Sewer in a Suitcase,” an activity that uses a miniature model of a city block to illustrate how stormwater flows directly into the river when heavy rains overwhelm New York City’s combined sewer system.
Though the group came to Rocking the Boat with many preconceptions about the river being heavily polluted, they were pleasantly surprised to find that these ideas were largely false. However, the results of their pH testing did reveal unusually low levels. Let’s pause for a quick chemistry refresher: solutions with a pH less than 7 are said to be acidic, while those with a pH greater than 7 are basic or alkaline. Pure water has a pH of 7 and the Bronx River typically has a pH of about 7.5, so you can imagine the reaction of the AMS II students who saw readings as low as 5! Apprentices in Rocking the Boat’s Environmental Job Skills Programs also saw low pH during their weekly water quality monitoring and observed dead fish in the river, likely a direct result of the increased acidity. Combined with similar observations made by other local groups, these findings prompted an investigation by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. AMS II students were proud to contribute their data to the DEC and try to help determine the cause of this disturbing event.
By turning the Bronx River into their classroom, 142 students saw first-hand how closely connected they are to the environment, and just how important it is to protect the local ecosystem. We wish all the tenth graders at AMS II the best of luck on their exams—we are sure they will ace them!—and hope to see them all back at Rocking the Boat soon.
Also, check out this great Hunts Point Express article written by one of the AMS students!