Each year, the seventh-grade science classes at Seneca Valley Middle School gather behind the school to explore an ecosystem in their own backyard.
On the fourth of five Stream Days built into the science curriculum this year, nearly 120 students passed through six stations ranging from fish dissection to water quality testing.
Manning the water-testing station at the May 27 activity was Andrew Barclay, a designer at ITT-Leopold, a worldwide company with a branch in Zelienople. The company specializes in creating technologies to improve water quality.
He watched from the bank of Little Connoquenessing Creek as students splashed in the water, testing for temperature, dissolved oxygen and pH levels.
"It's nice to come out and be with the kids and, actually, you feel more like a kid yourself," he said. "They don't seem to get any more mature, we seem to get more immature."
This was the company's first year with the Stream Day program, said Tris Kappeler, a science teacher at the middle school and one of Stream Day's founders. The program is now in its third year.
"They've been phenomenal," she said. "It's been a huge contribution to the success of what's been happening here today."
The company provided the testing equipment for the students to use and has added, for the first time, a level of professional expertise at the various water-testing stations.
Mr. Barclay said the firm's involvement was the work of an employee committee, Giving Back to the Community, that recommends what they call Watermark projects. The committee contacted the district to see how the company could get involved. They were connected with Ms. Kappeler, and Mr. Barclay said the interest was immediate.
Stream Days began from a purely curriculum-driven standpoint, both Ms. Kappeler and science teacher George Trew said. The goal was to get kids outside, doing hands-on learning with ecology.
"Showing them what it looks like for real is a lot better than teaching" them from a book, Mr. Trew said. "They get to see it, play with it, look at it and find out for themselves. You can't beat that. We're fortunate; not very many schools have situations like this," he said, referring to the stream on school property.
At the macroinvertebrate station, kids splashed in the creek and did a little jig, shaking up the creek bed and loosening tiny organisms so they would flow into bright yellow netting used to filter them.
After two or three trips in and out of the creek, the students and advance placement biology teacher David Lowe gathered around and went through their catches, identifying the specimens.
Students were on their knees, picking out all sorts of creepy-crawlies, and some even caught small fish, no more than 3 inches long.
It's an important process, because macroinvertebrates are an indicator of healthy or poor stream quality, Mr. Lowe said.
Between the splashing, wading, sifting and picking, the students were excited not only to be outside and in the water, but also to learn.
Seventh-grader Mickaila Bartlett wasn't sure she'd make it to Stream Day, after pulling a hamstring.
When she found out about Stream Day activities, she was on crutches and was told she wouldn't be able to go. She went to her doctor and pleaded to be allowed to stop using the crutches.
When Stream Day arrived, Mickaila was there, crutch-less and watching as Rosemary Emmerling, a ninth-grader, sawed away at the tough exterior of a dead perch.
Once the dissection was finished, Mickaila poked and prodded at the innards of the fish.
"It's something I haven't done," she said. "It's something new to try."
Jon Offredo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1410.