The Lowell Leaders in Stewardship Program (LLS) is an after-school environmental education designed to engage youth around the city and connect them to the outdoor world of Lowell. The program is run in partnership with the Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust, Mass Audubon Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary, and the Lowell Public Schools. The goal of our program is to expose urban youth to the outdoor classroom where they will build upon their in-school science & technology and math curricula, become engaged in constructive environmental stewardship in their community, and build self-esteem through team and leadership opportunities.
Students participating in the LLS program at Lowell High School Freshman Academy summer 2014 program learned about habitats, wildlife, stewardship, and homesteading through hands-on activities and experiments. One highlight of the program was learning about the importance of trees in our communities. Students met an American kestrel and screech owl and discussed trees as important components of a habitat. In addition, students explored the many benefits of trees from shade, to stabilizing soil on river banks, to also understanding their role in the carbon cycle and the effects of climate change. Students celebrated their discoveries and knowledge by planting a red maple tree to replace a tree in the school alley that had died.
This fall, returning students to the LLS program are new stewards of the red maple tree. The tree is utilized as a teaching tool for a phenology study (phenology is the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena). As part of a citizen science project, students visit the tree weekly; they measuring air temperature, leaf size, color change and the timing of leaf drop. These data are collected and utilized in part of a state-wide Harvard Forest study of trees. In the spring, students will observe bud burst and leaf out. Students have explored the importance of citizen science and how the simple data collected can be helpful in discovering more about the changing climate.
In addition to this phenology study, students will be spending this fall exploring the Concord River. Students will participate in citizen science water quality monitoring projects to access the health of the river. From macroinvertebrate studies to dissolved oxygen, phosphate and nitrate tests, students will be able to assess the water quality of the Concord River. The data collected will be utilized by the River Schools Network, an association of groups throughout the watershed collecting water quality data.
The water quality analysis will be the first part of the Concord River exploration. Over the winter in 2014, students will explore native wildlife to the area. In partnership with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, students will learn about the complicated and delicate life cycle of the American eel, which is currently being assessed for the Endangered Species List. Students will work with members from the USFWS to help conduct a population census study of eels in the Concord River in the spring of 2015.
This is just a snapshot of the projects the youth have completed and are building on. Youth have explored the connections between the school and the community, improved the habitats found near the school, and become well spoken advocates for the important natural resources in Lowell. Recently, members of the Lowell Leaders in Stewardship were invited to speak at a National Conference about how the program affected their lives, helped them build confidence, and how they learned about the important natural resources in the city of Lowell. Students received a standing ovation from a room filled with over 80 conservation professionals!