COEUR d’ALENE — “This is amazing,” Connor Brooks said as he pulled a glass test tube from its case. When the liquid inside it came into contact with water from Lake Coeur d’Alene, it changed color, indicating the levels of oxygen in the water. “I feel like a scientist.”
Brooks, along with about 70 other classmates from Lake City High School, took a field trip to Blackwell Island Tuesday to study the chemical and biological components of Lake Coeur d’Alene.
The students, juniors enrolled in the school’s Outdoor Education Program, traveled between three different stations: testing the water’s chemical makeup; studying the small invertebrates living in the water; and learning how pollution finds its way into the lake and then into humans.
“Our major goal here is for the kids to experience science so they have a greater appreciation for what’s going on in our lake, and maybe it’ll inspire them to be scientists, too,” said Jamie Esler, one of the science teachers for the Outdoor Studies Program. “We are doing some tests here that water resource scientists are doing on the rest of the lake.”
To prepare for the field trip, students learned about the history of Blackwell Island and its importance to the Coeur d'Alene Tribe. They also used scientific articles and essays about Lake Coeur d’Alene to help prepare them for the SAT.
Lenna Reardon, one of the juniors, loved the outing. She believes the hands-on experiences the Outdoor Studies Program provides has helped her to be more aware of things happening locally.
“It makes me feel like I could do much more than sit in a classroom. I can actually test water and see how I can make a difference, instead of thinking it’s too far gone,” she said. “They’re teaching us to be more aware of our surroundings.”
Reardon’s classmate, Josh Weadick, explained what he’s been learning about how Lake Coeur d’Alene’s water quality is in danger.
“There’s been a problem with heavy metals washing downstream from mining towns like Kellogg,” he explained. “Oxygen keeps those metals on the bottom of the lake, but with decomposing plants affecting oxygen levels as well as algae blooms being eaten by bacteria, oxygen levels could get too low, letting those settled heavy metals rise, contaminating the water and affecting wildlife.”
“It’s a big cycle and very confusing,” Reardon added. “Not a lot of people understand it and no one is really seeing that pollution is rising and water quality is going down. For us, it’s going to affect our kids.”
The students also worked with a professional from the community water resource center with the University of Idaho in Coeur d’Alene, some waterkeepers, and received a history lesson from Quanah Matheson, the cultural director for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe.
The district’s superintendent, Matt Handelman, accompanied the students on their field trip to learn a thing or two about water quality for himself. He also tagged along to see the great effects of experiential education.
“This plays a major role in connecting their learning to the real world,” he said of the Outdoor Studies Program. “The goal is to have a space where this can be the main thing for the school instead of a side thing.”
Lake City High School teacher Jamie Esler instructs Lake City juniors Josh Weadick, left, and Lenna Reardon on how to test water samples from the Spokane River on Tuesday at Blackwell Island. The students were testing the oxygen levels in the water as part of an outdoor studies class.