2017-10-19 / Front Page

Student scientists hit the streets of OOB

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer


From left, Chase Rodgers, Casey Zecchinelli and Gabe Edwards, students in Cynthia Nye’s sixth grade class at Loranger Memorial School apply storm drain stencils on Temple Avenue in Old Orchard Beach. Nye said that according to a study by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, most people assume storm drains lead to the sewer treatment plants. The storm drain system on Temple Street, however, leads to the Goosefare Brook Watershed and eventually to the ocean. (Grant McPherson photo) From left, Chase Rodgers, Casey Zecchinelli and Gabe Edwards, students in Cynthia Nye’s sixth grade class at Loranger Memorial School apply storm drain stencils on Temple Avenue in Old Orchard Beach. Nye said that according to a study by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, most people assume storm drains lead to the sewer treatment plants. The storm drain system on Temple Street, however, leads to the Goosefare Brook Watershed and eventually to the ocean. (Grant McPherson photo) OLD ORCHARD BEACH – Volunteers and school members have taken incremental and important steps toward improving the quality of surrounding water sources, and imparting the value of conservation to the next generation.

Old Orchard Beach conservation commission members joined forces with sixth-grade students from Loranger Memorial School to stencil storm drains throughout the town last week. Students marked more than 100 drains with the messages “Keep Water Clean” and “Drains To Ocean” along Temple Avenue, West Grand Avenue, Emerson Cummings Boulevard and others. The project is part of the Goosefare Brook Watershed-Based Management Plan, which was conducted by FB Environmental in May 2016 with the support of the Saco and Old Orchard Beach municipalities.


Cynthia Nye, sixth grade teacher at Loranger Memorial School and Old Orchard Beach Conservation Commission member helps Shiloh Thao, right, stencil one of over 100 storm drains in Old Orchard Beach that her students worked on last week. (Grant McPherson photo) Cynthia Nye, sixth grade teacher at Loranger Memorial School and Old Orchard Beach Conservation Commission member helps Shiloh Thao, right, stencil one of over 100 storm drains in Old Orchard Beach that her students worked on last week. (Grant McPherson photo) The goals of the plan were to raise Goosefare Brook’s water quality to state approved standards, protect the stream from future contamination and educate the public about water safety. Goosefare Brook is an 8-mile long stream that flows through Saco and Old Orchard Beach before reaching the Atlantic Ocean. Its watershed comprises a total of 5,902 acres between the two municipalities, the majority of which lies in Saco.

The brook was first identified by the state as an issue in 2003 when seven heavy metals, including lead, were found at levels that exceeded the maximum amount permitted. The brook also was cited for bacteria impairments in 2014. Part of the problem is due to the stream being close to major development sites that feed pollutants into the storm drains.

Cynthia Nye, a sixth-grade teacher at Loranger Memorial School, wanted to show her kids it was possible to have a positive impact on the environment and enjoy it at the same time. She said a study from the Department of Environmental Protection found most people believe storm drains lead to the sewer treatment plant, which is not the case.

“I feel like we’ve just been really lucky to pull all of this together,” she said. “It’s been a ton of work. It’s been great to be outside. (The students) certainly have jumped right in. They’ve investigated all of the different sites. Some of them want to go back with their families and look at them. That’s part of the reason the commission has wanted to work with schools, to get kids and families out into nature using our conservation area,” said Nye, whose sixth-grade students have studied many different aspects of water quality. Students have also looked for macro invertebrates, whose presence in certain bodies of water can indicate pollution levels depending on the species that is found.

The Gulf of Maine Research Institute gave Nye a grant to help pay for transportation and supplies such as rubber boots. Students were able to use water-testing equipment from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection as well as classroom water sampling kits.

“We felt it was important for kids to get the experience of testing water even if some results were not as accurate as the ones with professional equipment,” Nye said. “We really wanted them to use the scientific process.”

Nye is a member of the Old Orchard Beach conservation commission and this was her students’ third project with the group.

Her class has participated in beach profiling, which consists of measuring erosion on a monthly basis and has also studied American Chestnut Trees in Milliken Mills Woods last year to look for signs of invasive species.

“The kids are learning a lot about what invasive species are and why they’re coming into our area,” Nye said. “A lot of it is related to climate change and ties into a schematic study of sustainability.”

Kimbark Smith, chairman of the Old Orchard Beach Conservation Commission, is retired and enjoys spending his time volunteering with students. He spent about two hours each day from Oct. 10 through Oct. 12 with Nye’s students helping stencil storm drains in Old Orchard Beach.

“We start early so kids understand the environment we live in needs to be respected and managed,” he said. “Getting kids involved early makes them feel part of the process, gives them ownership. It’s also about getting bodies (involved). Right now the conservation commission is a small operation. Even grants with money need volunteers willing to give up their own time. When the school system picks projects, I get kids out there who go home and tell their parents. It becomes a community effort. It has to be to make conservation work, especially in a small town like we are.”

Smith also helped coordinate a cleanup day of the watershed last spring with high school students from Thornton Academy and Old Orchard Beach. Students helped remove trash from streams that feed Goosefare Brook and loaded the refuge into trucks. Smith hopes to organize more events like these in the future.

“The waterways are all interconnected, they affect everyone,” Smith said.

Nye wants to keep her students involved in the outdoors for their own health as well. She said her projects fall under the category of citizen science, in which local people can collect data about where they live and send it to larger organizations that pool the data together and analyze it.

“It’s a way of getting people mobilized to collect lots of data that scientists then can use to investigate and solve problems,” Nye said. “Ordinary people get trained in how to collect data. Scientists are looking for a large work force contributing to a data set.”

As far as Goosefare Brook is concerned, Nye’s students did find bacteria in one area they tested, but their test couldn’t indicate what kind of bacteria it was. Her students will upload their information to an online database that will help them reach further conclusions soon.

“It led the kids to conclude that Goosefare water is pretty clean, enough to support macro invertebrates that don’t live in polluted water.,” Nye said.

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