PORTSMOUTH — When it comes to studying nature, students at Melville Elementary School certainly don’t have to travel far to get some hands-on learning. All they have to do is exit the main door and follow a short path to the left that leads to Melville Ponds — the school’s own backyard nature lab.
Students recently welcomed educators from the Norman Bird Sanctuary (NBS), who took them on a “field trip” to the upper ponds to comb for critters.
Dawn Borden, a third-grade teacher, said having a natural resource such as Melville Ponds close by is a great benefit to the school.
“It’s nice. You don’t have to deal with busing, because that’s what really costs the most,” said Ms. Borden, adding that the NBS program was funded through a grant from the Portsmouth Public Education Foundation.
“You guys have a real great habitat here behind us — the pond,” Daisy Frabell, AmeriCorps environmental educator at NBS, told students at the beginning of the program.
After the kids gathered on the grass at the edge of the pond, Matt Schenck, NBS educational assistant, handed out nets — the letters stand for “nature extractor tools,” he told students — and told them to see what they could find.
“You’re gonna have to get your hands a little bit dirty,” Mr. Schenck said.
The kids took in quite a haul, which they placed gently into a rectangular plastic container for inspection: scuds, aquatic earthworms, damselflies, snails, baby turtles, pouch snails, isopods and more.
“I never knew there were so many living things in there,” said third-grader Erin McGinnley.
The most impressive catch, however, was a tiny bug that revealed a lot about the cleanliness of Melville Ponds.
Mr. Schenck and Ms. Frabell were both surprised to find a few stoneflies, which are used by scientists in measuring a watershed’s pollution level.
“That’s a pretty cool bug to find in a pond,” said Mr. Schenck. “It indicates really good water quality. They’re very intolerant of pollution.”
Pointing to the great number of different critters collected in the container, Ms. Frabell added, “our pond is a pretty good place to live.”