- Associated Press - Monday, September 1, 2014

HOUGHTON, Mich. (AP) - Students across the Copper Country are headed back to school in the next couple of weeks, and many of them will be just as quickly headed right back outside, where they’ll be giving back to their communities and getting some real-world education working on projects sponsored by the Lake Superior Stewardship Initiative.

Fifteen local elementary, middle and high schools are currently involved in the initiative, which is administered by the Western U.P. Center for Science, Math and Education and is part of the larger Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative, said Shawn Oppliger, center director and LSSI project manager.

The main objective, Oppliger said, is to get students outside doing work that’s significant to them, their communities and the environment, with a focus on Lake Superior and its watershed.

“Through that process students learn to become contributing citizens in their communities,” Oppliger said.

Joan Chadde, LSSI project adviser and education program coordinator for the science, math and education center, said each project is a partnership between a community group with a need and a school with the initiative to meet it. The LSSI provides mini-grants to support the projects, as well as professional development and hands-on support, The Daily Mining Gazette (https://bit.ly/1pxlORz ) reports.

A few projects have included school gardens and accompanying education on healthier eating, at Calumet’s CLK Elementary and elsewhere; Dollar Bay High School’s nationally recognized underwater remote operated vehicle (ROV) program, created to help Isle Royale National Park search for zebra mussels; and at least a few nature trails, including one at Lake Perrault recently completed by students at Jeffers High School.

“At Lake Perrault they had to clean up a lot of broken glass,” Oppliger said. “Now people can enjoy the park because of the work of the students.”

At the Lake Linden-Hubbell Public Schools, elementary students have built a disc golf course, while Nicholas Squires’ eighth- and tenth-grade students have focused on environmental monitoring and remediation of stamps sands, as well as chemical monitoring of the Trap Rock River.

Squires said the monitoring involves quadrat analysis of the sands, where students identify 1-meter-square sections of land and measure plant diversity, surface temperature, root depth and take plant cuttings to measure biomass, and then send the results to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“They’ve been interested in some of the work we’ve done,” said Squires. “We’ve sent some of the data sets to them, and we’re in the waiting process to see if that’s something they want to continue.”

On the Trap Rock, students use test kits to measure copper and oxygen concentrations near the river’s headwaters.

Squires said students are motivated by the fact they’re doing real work, some of it using professional-level tools, that can be taken seriously by adult decision-makers.

“It’s cool that it’s real, legitimate scientific data that can be used,” he said. “There’s definitely a difference between that and a lab in the classroom. They’re learning to do it as a real scientist would.”

Chadde said GLLI’s primary funding comes from the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative, created by the Great Lakes Fishery Trust using money from a fisheries disaster nearly 20 years ago near Ludington on Lake Michigan, where utility water intakes from the lake trapped and killed thousands of fish.

That current GLSI grant provides $145,000 over two years, with another grant of $35,000 annually also helping fund operations, Oppliger said.

Chadde said about half of the money goes directly to the schools through mini-grants. The rest goes to staffing, professional development for teachers and several community events each year.

These include the Water Fest in October, the Lake Superior Celebration in April and a green film series that runs throughout the winter on Michigan Technological University’s campus.

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Information from: The Daily Mining Gazette, https://www.mininggazette.com

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