Portsmouth school has nature lab in its own backyard

Daisy Frabell, an education educator from the Norman Bird Sanctuary, and Melville School third-grader Ramsey Huggins inspect the critters that students took out of Melville Pond. Photo by Jim McGaw. Daisy Frabell, an education educator from the Norman Bird Sanctuary, and Melville School third-grader Ramsey Huggins inspect the critters that students took out of Melville Pond. Photo by Jim McGaw.

Daisy Frabell, an education educator from the Norman Bird Sanctuary, and Melville School third-grader Ramsey Huggins inspect the critters that students took out of Melville Pond. Photo by Jim McGaw.

Daisy Frabell, an education educator from the Norman Bird Sanctuary, and Melville School third-grader Ramsey Huggins inspect the critters that students took out of Melville Pond. Photo by Jim McGaw.

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.

Grace Duclos (left) and Kady Ellis comb for critters at Melville Pond last week. Photo by Jim McGaw.

Grace Duclos (left) and Kady Ellis comb for critters at Melville Pond last week. Photo by Jim McGaw.

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.

Third-graders raise their hands to answer posed by Matt Schenck (far left), educational assistant from the Norman Bird Sanctuary. Photo by Jim McGaw.

Third-graders raise their hands to answer posed by Matt Schenck (far left), educational assistant from the Norman Bird Sanctuary. Photo by Jim McGaw.

“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.

Daisy Frabell of the Norman Bird Sanctuary holds up a baby turtle that had just been netted by a student at Melville Pond. Photo by Jim McGaw.

Daisy Frabell of the Norman Bird Sanctuary holds up a baby turtle that had just been netted by a student at Melville Pond. Photo by Jim McGaw.

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.”

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One Comment;

  1. Rick Caron said:

    When i went to Melville school we use to find fossils. They were in the slate rocks to the left of the school. We had to split the slate edgewise, Mostly we found ferns.
    Rick Caron

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