AP Environmental Science class goes to Meadowland Environmental Center

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Bradley Bennett, Staff Writer

Last Friday, the AP Environmental Science class took a field trip to the Meadowlands Environmental Center in New Jersey to participate in a field study of salt marsh ecosystems. The center is located on a salt water estuary of the Hackensack River.

The class chose this site because it “has a sordid history of human destruction — draining the marsh, filling it in as a landfill, the Superfund sites upstream– and is a great example of an ecosystem that is rebounding,” Science Teacher Camilla Nivison said.

The field trip allowed the class to learn field techniques and experience science in action, she said. It also allowed the students to research the impact of an urban environment on the salt marsh ecosystem.

The trip lasted all day on Friday, where the students participated in active field studies and lab experiments, Eliza Bender (12) said.

he students first met an instructor in a classroom at the center who taught them about the history of the site, the biological features of the environment, and the characteristics of the ecosystems of New Jersey, Bender said.

Following the brief lecture, students went outdoors to perform geological experiments. The students examined the swamplands of the area, taking samples of the water to measure salinity and pH, Bender said. They also caught organisms such as fish and crabs, and measured and recorded various data about the organisms.

Although the class did not manage to catch any rare creatures, the activity allowed students to “learn both about the water chemistry and the ecological community of the ecosystem,” Nivison said.

Through their field experiments, the students were able to map out the food web of the New Jersey ecosystem based on the student’s findings and observations, Bender said.

Although the students had to release all the organisms they found back into their environment, they were able to use pre-treated lab samples provided by the center to complete their map of the food web, Nivison said.

These activities allowed the students to make meaningful connections between their class and the actual ecosystems that they studying.

“The activities we did at the center allowed us to interact with the organisms and made it feel like we were testing skills we’d learned in a real life situation,” Bender said.

For Mika Asfaw (12), creating the food web “made the class topics more concrete because we saw how interconnected the food chain is in different ecosystems,” he said.

Earlier in the year, the class had conducted similar experiments at Van Cortlandt Park, but this trip was unique because it “allowed [them] to interact with the environment on a much larger scale,” Bender said.

“I really enjoyed engaging and taking part in the hands-on experiments because they kept me very focused,” Masa Shiiki (12) said.

To end the day, the class toured the flagship building of the center, which includes a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified sustainable building design, Nivison said. LEED certified designs signify that the building displays numerous sustainable green features.

For example, the center is built on an old landfill, making use of space that would otherwise not be used for anything, Nivison said. Additionally, the building conserves energy by using recyclable materials, and has large angled windows to allow for natural light, she said.

“I felt it was worth taking the trip because it helped us to understand the environmental problems that our society faces,” Asfaw said.
Overall, the trip inspired the students in the class to think differently about environmental sciences.

“Now I understand better that I have to look at multiple factors when I am doing analysis,” Shiiki said.

For Bender, the trip was successful because it “allowed us to see how our class lessons actually play out, not as a hypothetical idea but as a practical use of our skills,” she said.