New Jersey High School Students to Study and Compare Aquatic Ecology and Chemistry

Montclair State University brings together suburban and urban high schools in Bergen, Passaic and Essex to participate

MONTCLAIR, N.J., December 4, 2007- Students and teachers from four New Jersey high schools in three counties will conduct scientific studies of the Passaic River under the guidance of professors and staff from Montclair State University under a new project, Passaic River Environmental Education and Monitoring Organization, PREEMO, established through Montclair State University's Passaic River Institute. This program is supported by a grant of $40,000 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA grant to the Passaic River Institute will support the program that will give high school students from Barringer High School, Newark; Wallington High School, Wallington (Bergen County); Passaic Valley High School, Little Falls (Passaic County); and Newark Academy, Livingston (Essex County) hands-on training in the science of monitoring water quality along the environmentally-challenged river and its tributaries.

"The program has many benefits for the community. On an educational level, it is a very practical way of engaging high school students in biology, chemistry, math, and computer science concepts that are taught in classrooms," says Kirk Barrett, Ph.D., director of the Passaic River Institute. "It is also a way of encouraging young people to take an active role in taking care of their local environments, a trait that we hope will become a lifelong habit."

A highlight of the learning experience will be a year-end conference on the campus of Montclair State University during which students of all four high schools will meet to share and discuss their findings. "This project will culminate in a sharing of experiences between students and teachers from different learning environments," says Barrett, "It brings together a cross-section of young people who reflect New Jersey's diverse neighborhoods to study together waterways that we share in common."

Teachers from the four schools are receiving advice, training and supplies in aquatic biological and chemical analysis procedures from faculty and staff at the Passaic River Institute, and now are leading their students to the Passaic River for monthly water-monitoring forays.

"Involving teachers and students in a study of the Passaic engages them in experiences that both educate and inspire them," said EPA Regional Administrator, Alan J. Steinberg. "This program gives educators and young people the knowledge and skills they need to understand their environment and take action to improve it. They will know how to meet an important challenge, being environmental stewards of the Passaic River."

The students are using kits purchased by the EPA grant to measure water quality variables such as dissolved oxygen, water clarity and phosphorus concentrations. They are also collecting small bottom-dwelling animals, like snails, that indicate pollution levels in a waterbody.

Students are entering their collected data into a Web-based program (www.preemo-msu.org) that allows them to analyze data and compare it with data collected at other sites. The Web site also provides links to relevant educational materials, links to other data sets about the river and will provide a forum where students can post their impressions and questions about ecology and environmental science.

One sampling site is the lake in Essex County's Branch Brook Park, which flows into the Passaic River. "For generations, Essex County Branch Brook Park has been a special place where people of all ages play, relax and enjoy nature every day. Over the last five years, we have worked cooperatively with the public to revitalize our park and upgrade recreation facilities," said Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. "We are pleased the EPA and Montclair State will utilize Branch Brook Park as an environmental classroom and help students learn about and gain an appreciation of nature."

Released: 12/4/2007