Students at PS 57 Conduct a 14-Month Water Quality Study

March 17–23 is National Wildlife Week, and this year’s theme is water, specifically people and wildlife’s shared need for clean water. In keeping with this year’s theme, Junior Scientists and Junior Rangers at PS57, a Green Flag Eco-School in Staten Island New York, presented results from a 14-month EPA-funded comparative water quality study. Samples were collected from several water bodies: Eibs Pond, a wetland pond across the street from the school; Blue Heron Park Pond, a local pond about 8.5 miles from the school; three ponds at a Vermont dairy farm; and streams, ponds and lakes in the Catskill watershed, which provides New York City’s 8.5 million residents their drinking water.

Eibs Pond, Staten Island, NY
Eibs Pond, Staten Island, N.Y. Photo by Samuel Vega III.
Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) documents from 2002 revealed that Eibs Pond’s water quality had been
 impacted by past illegal dumping, plant overgrowth and sediment erosion. PS 57 students set about sampling and charting water quality and macroinvertebrate data of Eibs Pond monthly, studying Ph, nitrite, nitrate and ammonia levels. Fourteen teachers in grades 3–5, who received professional development for the project from seasoned science teacher Pat Lockhart, used the “Bucket of Bugs” lesson from the Catskills: A Sense of Place curriculum.  The lesson uses paper models of insects to teach students about macroinverebrates.

Collecting Samples

Students stuffed leaves into mesh bags to capture macroinvertebrates from Eibs Pond.
Students stuffed leaves into mesh bags to capture macroinvertebrates from Eibs Pond.
To collect actual macroinvertebrate samples from Eibs Pond, students stuffed mesh bags with leaves.  The mesh bags were kept in Eibs Pond; between September 2012 and December 2013, 14 different classes came to collect them each month. Lockhart, classroom teachers and Park Rangers helped students during each visit to remove the leaf pack mesh bags using buckets and nets.

PS 57 students identify macroinvertebrates from their samples.
PS 57 students identify macroinvertebrates from their samples. Photo by Samuel Vega III.
Macroinvertebrates were then identified, separated and placed onto identification charts.  Students worked in small groups, with teachers and rangers.  Monthly results were charted on data forms and compared by classes.

Student data were analyzed to determine water quality health based on the number and kinds of macroinvertebrates found in samples.  Based on results, which revealed an overabundance of aquatic worms, the students confirmed the DEC’s findings that that Eibs Pond water was still slightly impacted by pollution.

Next, students used four different water quality tests to determine pond water health.  Students tested water samples’ Ph, nitrite, nitrate and ammonia levels and recorded their results.

Testing Water Quality

Rangers also worked with PS 57 teachers and students at nearby Blue Heron Park as part of the comparative water quality study.  Macroinvertebrate specimens were collected and identified and data were charted. Findings were enlarged using a microscope and projector and images of specimens were projected onto a screen.

In October 2013, while on a one-week trip to Spring Brook Farm, a sustainable dairy farm in Reading, Vermont with the Farms for City Kids program, PS 57 students tested the quality of the water in three ponds there. They found that water quality of the ponds was slightly impacted as a result of manure fertilizers used in adjacent fields.

PS 57 students sample the water in one of three ponds at Spring Brook Farm.
PS 57 students sample the water in one of three ponds at Spring Brook Farm. Photo by Samuel Vega III.
At the end of their comparative water sampling project, PS 57 Junior Rangers developed and voted on seven student and community proposals to improve both land use and water quality, and environmental education programming in Eibs Pond Park.  Some of these proposals include wetland restoration, erosion control, removal of invasive species and planting of natives, as well as the creation of a nature center and an accessible outdoor classroom. Until proposals are vetted, PS 57 students and Friends of Eibs Pond—a local community group—will continue to conduct science programs, plantings, and community restoration projects at Eibs Pond together.

Help Wildlife and Water

Ensuring our water is clean is a vital way you can protect wildlife and our communities. Learn more about wildlife and water for National Wildlife Week, including how you can help.

Does your Eco-School have a great environmental science program?  If so, I’d love to know about it! Please email me at