Laurel Swope served as the AmeriCorps Service Learning Coordinator at Mount Grace for 2010-2011. The Falls River, which forms the border of Gill and Greenfield, was the site of her first project: benthic macro-invertebrate sampling with Greenfield students. Data on the life of pollution intolerant macro-invertebrate species is a valuable tool to document stream health. Access to the riverbed was provided by Gill’s Bascom Hollow Farm, protected by Mount Grace in 2007.
As I walked into my very first service project with sixth grade students I will admit I was a bit nervous. During a short time in the classroom my nerves calmed quickly as I watched these amazing students become completely engaged in helping one another with identifying insects and discussing their past experiences in streams. This was obviously a tight knit group and great teammates in learning. As we went out to the stream site to collect important chemical data and benthic macro invertebrates the students showed much more collaboration as they split the tasks up amongst themselves and took turns in order to experience data collection in the stream as well as documenting important information. One young man in my group was always allowing the others to go first and all along making sure that all tasks were being completed, a very natural and effective leader, who also seemed to be the core connector of the group. At the end of the day I observed his group discussing all of the cool things they collected from the stream and reminiscing over the fun experience and how they wanted to go together and do it again. This group found even stronger relationship bonds over water – a remarkable feat considering they began as a solid group of students.
Classroom activities were developed to help the students understand the importance of water quality and how to measure water quality through chemical and biological data collection. The students’ data will be analyzed by high school students at Stoneleigh-Burnham to be reported out to Mount Grace and the Millers River Watershed Council.
This project also became an avenue for bonding amongst AmeriCorps members. The Land Steward and Outreach Coordinators all brought previous knowledge and skills to bear in assisting in the day of stream collections. As part of this project it was essential to have step-by-step visuals for students to understand the collection process. So the fearless group of AmeriCorps members ventured out in the chilly fall weather to act out sampling procedures in forty-five degree stream water. The day turned into more than pictures for a simple project, but learning more about one another’s deep and true purpose for making the choice to devote a year of service in Massachusetts.
L: Students at the Falls River
R: AmeriCorps members Gwen Kozlowski, Keith Davies, Laurel Swope, and Jason Rhoades, with a volunteer