Students accept environmental challenge

ORANGE — Last October, a group of Turkey Hill School students accepted an environmental challenge to create a plan to save a natural place in our community. After selecting the pond that exists right on the school property, they quickly learned that it serves as home to a variety of wildlife and also provides the necessary drainage for the school property. What they also discovered is that despite these attributes, sadly enough, it was never given a name.

Recently, a team of dedicated youngsters attended a Board of Selectmen's meeting requesting that this small but important body of water be given an official name to help maintain and preserve it. Their suggestion: Turkey Hill Pond.

"This project has been a tremendous learning experience for all of the children involved," explained Marilyn Moger, a fifth grade teacher at Turkey Hill School who along with sixth grade instructor Ellen Goldbenberg and team coordinator Marie Rourke spearheaded the project. "They were given a number of responsibilities which included investigating the history of the pond and also interacting with scientists."

The twelve students who participated in the project were fifth graders Joanna Cambria, Kristen Griest, Katharine Wang, Ivica Pavisic, Stephen Siena and Daniel Spinelli. Those from the sixth grade class include Rachael Leary, Monika Wilson, Stephanie Barrett, Shannon Sansone, Scott Pearl and Alex Wang.

According to Moger, the assignment was selected from a magazine titled Time for Kids and was offered as a contest to schools all around the country. Upon agreeing to the challenge, students were then required to create a portfolio that would later be submitted to the magazine. Criteria was based on documentation, photos, interviews and scientific research.

Students conducted numerous interviews with former school principals and scientists at the Kellogg Environmental Center to collect their data. Through their research, they discovered that there were in fact a number of environmental challenges associated with the pond. One study indicated that the grass around the pond was being cut too close, destroying the necessary buffer zone needed to protect the wildlife that exists there. Another study proved that the metal drainpipes that exist near the pond area are chipping and could potentially cause serious health hazards, not only to the wildlife but also to children who attend the school.

Scott Allen, Inland Wetlands Enforcement Officer for the town also provided the students with valuable information about the site. He explained that the pond, which is approximately 30 feet in diameter and roughly four feet deep, actually serves as a storm water management system and contains a series of catch basins needed to serve the school.

"This was an absolutely wonderful project for the children to take part in and I applaud each and every one of them for the interest in the saving the environment," said Allen. "As a result, a lot of good ideas developed from this assignment. I'm currently working with the Park and Recreation Department to have the rusted drain pipes removed from the area and I'm also working on plan to maintain a vegetative buffer strip around the pond edge for the wildlife."

While the school project did not receive any awards from the magazine, according to Moger, it did raise a lot of attention around the school community.

"So many lessons were learned. Each member of the pond committee went to one of the primary grade classrooms to inform students about pollution in and around the pond," said Moger. "Hopefully this awareness will reduce the amount of litter around the area and keep the pond both cleaner and healthier for future classes to enjoy."