As plans are wrapping up in the final days before the start of the new school year, preparations have been underway since last spring for the arrival of new and unique members to the Scituate High School community.
Students of Stephen Maguire, an astronomy, biology, oceanography, meteorology and ornithology (the biology of birds) teacher at the high school, have been constructing a duck pond in the school courtyard with the hope of offering sanctuary to female ducks that come to nest in the area.
According to Maguire, for the last eight years at least one female mallard duck has nested in ‘the quad’ of the high school building.
Seeking shelter at the high school works well for the ducks, Maguire said, “Because when their babies are born, they have no predators.”
“However, because they nest in an enclosed space, they are not able to escape unless they are captured or leave through the building,” he said. “So unless they are rescued, they can eat but they have no water.”
In 2012 Maguire said there were two nesting females. This year there were four.
“After we rescued the fourth family, my biology class kids came up with the idea of creating a pond to let the babies just grow up in there and not have to stress them, the mother, or us – the rescuers, out.”
Olivia Neagle, who will be starting her senior year in a few days, said working on the pond was “a lot of hard work.”
“But it is all worth it because you know you’re doing it for a good reason,” she said. “This past year and the years prior Mr. Maguire and his classes have had to capture the mothers and their ducklings and bring them from the courtyard in the center of school to the pond in the front of the school. And when this happens it is an unsafe and hectic process for Mr. Maguire, his students, and more importantly, the ducks.”
She said by having the pond in the courtyard, the ducklings would be able to survive until they are old enough to be able to fly out of the courtyard and into the main pond.
Katie Neil, who will also be a senior in September, said the area where the duck pond is located “is a huge square that isn’t used for anything else but a garden.”
To “spice up” the area, she said it was felt it would be a great place for the pond, which measures 15-feet by 15-feet, because mother ducks already call it home.
“The ducks that will use the pond will hopefully be mothers that have come from the past,” Neil said.
She said 12 to 15 students, along with Maguire, have been involved with the project.
“As we maintain the pond, we hope more people get involved.”
While the pond may be completed by the start of school in a couple of weeks, Neil said the water would not be put into it until spring, when the duck families arrive.
Maguire said Scituate High School is the only public high school in the United States that offers a full semester in ornithology. He also said he has spoken with the Massachusetts Audubon Society to hopefully have the birds tagged in order to learn if the mother ducks were also born at the high school and if they are returning to nest.
His role in the duck pond project, he said, has been to simply support his students.
“They have been the primary action takers in this entire project,” he said.
Maguire said the project has the full support of Scituate School Superintendent John McCarthy and Scituate High School principal Robert Wargo.
“Without them, this entire effort would not be possible,” he said.
Colleen Evans said she wanted to get involved in the project, “first because I was already so close with all of my biology classmates that I thought it would be really fun, and second, because we all thought it would be a great idea to build a pond in the quad in order to give the mother duck and her babies a safer place to live for a little while.”
Evans, who is getting ready to start her senior year, said the biggest challenge was digging the hole, and that she hopes students at the high school will learn more of how to work together.
Neil said she felt the project helps bring students together for reasons such as community service and education.
“It helps our school look and feel more like a community,” she said. “It can also give kids responsibility by having to keep it clean and looking nice.”
Wargo said he has been “very impressed by the high level of interest and initiative” shown by Maguire’s students.
“They are taking skills taught in the classroom and applying them to a real-life situation,” he said. “The students have transformed a space into a living, learning lab.”
Maguire called the students one of the most “incredibly dedicated and caring group of kids” he has ever worked with.
“They have a sincere desire to help the ducks and to create something lasting and awesome for the high school,” he said, adding that the students have had T-shirts made and have named themselves the ‘Scituate Duck Squad.”
He said they have also started a Facebook page and a Twitter feed.
“They really care about making a difference and in a time when a lot of people say this generation of kids is entitled and doesn't like to work hard,” he said. “They are a refreshing and phenomenal example of what putting action into a great idea can be.”
Brooke Bartoloni, who will also be a senior this year, said the project has been “morally fulfilling.”
“I can’t be more proud to be a part of this project,” she said. “I also think it’s great for our school and the community as a whole.”
Neagle said that, “in the end it will be a great place to walk through and see the ducks and the pond that we created.”
“I think most people want to leave high school knowing they made a mark and they will be remembered,” she said. “And in doing this, my whole class will be able to look back and say that we created this on our own, and for years to come be able to see how much it is progressing.”