The creek becomes a classroom for California youngsters. Grants in Action.
A dozen 12- and 13-year-olds prowl the grassy bank of Guadalupe Creek. The snowy egret struts a marginally safe distance behind.
It is the John Muir Middle School students' first day on the creek. Teacher Nancy Dauenhauer has taught them that observation is the bedrock upon which the scientific method is built, and they are trying to out-observe each other as they explore the stream that feeds the Guadalupe River, watershed for densely populated San Jose, Ca.
Bringing up the rear, two students stop and point at the bird.
"That's a snowy egret."
"No, it's a great egret."
"Great or snowy, he's following us."
Out comes a book on Western coastal birds, and the youngsters start comparing the size, shape and markings of both kinds of egrets.
Their visit to the creek is part of a hands-on science education program called BioSITE (Students Investigating Their Environment), run by the Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose, grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. A previous $175,00 HHMI award in 1993 enabled the museum to establish BioSITE.
Throughout the semester, the middle school students visit the creek weekly, collecting information and learning how to analyze it. They take and test water samples, map the contours of the creek bed, correlate the fish and wildlife they see with variations in water temperature, flow and quality. They examine the vegetation that calls the creek banks home. They keep detailed field journals.
Their study site is half a mile up the creek from a spot behind Pioneer High School where a previous BioSITE grant funded environmental studies by San Jose elementary school pupils and their high school mentors.
The middle schoolers are not only learning science by getting their hands and feet wet; they are participating in real research for an environmental conservation project. Like BioSITE participants over the past five years, they serve as Community Creek Watch volunteers, collecting data bimonthly on the water temperature, turbidity, conductivity, pH levels and dissolved oxygen content. Their measurements are contributed to a nonprofit reform program called River Alliance, which is monitoring the Guadalupe River watershed.
"BioSITE takes environmental science out of the textbook and into the real world," said Sandra Derby, program director.