Harwich High School students learn aquaculture while getting paid through a Summer of Work and Learning Program. The students (from left to right) are Mark Stines, Katie Nydam, Heidi Erdmann and Allison Toner. Photo by William F. Galvin
by William F. Galvin
HARWICH --- What better way is there to spend a summer than hanging around the dock and waters of Wychmere Harbor, learning aquaculture and getting paid for it. That's the experience extended five Harwich High School students thanks to a Summer of Work and Learning Program sponsored by the School to Careers Partnership. The students, all with an interest in science, are working six hours a day, five days a week at the town's shellfish laboratory, washing juvenile clams, cleaning the upwelling system, taking water temperatures, salinity, dissolved oxygen, plankton and whatever additional samples are required to better understand the ideal habitat for growing quahogs.
"We didn't know what to expect," explained Heidi Erdmann, a 1998 HHS graduate, who is heading to The College of Wooster in Ohio this fall. "We had a general overview, but this has been a great experience, learning about clams and watching them grow."
The students started working a little more than two weeks ago, at a time when it took them more than four hours to clean the juvenile clams and the silos through which water is pumped and the nutrients of the sea fed to these mollusks. Today, using innovative and experimental techniques, the students--Erdmann, Katie Nydam, Caitlin Capistron, Allison Toner and Mark Stines -- complete that task each morning in an hour-and-a-half and move on to additional tasks.
Two weeks ago the students would shy away from people, who, passing by the laboratory, would stick their heads in and inquire as to what is going on in there. Now the students have the knowledge and confidence to address those questions willingly.
"People are impressed with what we've learned, we're absorbing this process," stated Erdmann. "We have much more confidence. Before, we didn't want to be left alone, but now it's no problem."
This has also been a learning experience for Harwich High School science teacher Troy Hopkins, who is overseeing the program with assistant natural resource officer Heinz Proft, working with Jeffrey Eble, a intern from the Cape Cod Community College environmental technology certificate program. "They're getting a lot of hands-on field experience," explained Hopkins. "They're designing procedures. We don't have a set way to handle it. They're right there helping out ... making decisions." "They (the students) actually get to try out their own ideas," agreed Proft.
The students, while spending much of their time examining the conditions under which the 6,000,000 clams are growing, are by no means confined to the laboratory. They spend time in the town boat taking water samples, examining the types of algae, keeping an eye out for poisonous strains of photoplankton, in the surrounding water and the temperature fluctuations that have led to blooms in the harbor. The students are also spending time in the tidal zone, examining how the clams are transplanted into the wild and getting a better understanding of the size to which these mollusks grow, avoiding the grasp of commercial and recreational shellfishing populations.
Mark Stines spoke of a field trip the students took to Aquaculture Research Corporation, Inc., a shellfish hatchery in Dennis, where the clams are produced for profit. He was particularly impressed that the food for the seed is grown at that location and not pumped into the hatchery from surrounding waters, as is the case at the Harwich Shellfish Lab. Stines also pointed to the precision of that operation relative to sustained optimum water temperatures. The high school students have their sights set on science and as Stines pointed out they not only know the names of the various instruments they are using to collect samples, but they know how to use them to obtain accurate measurements. "I want to go into veterinary science and the laboratory experience I'm getting here will help me in that area," explained Allison Toner. Katie Nydam, who is going into her senior year at HHS, said she has been interested in science throughout school and is looking to a career in that field. "I don't know if it would be in shellfish," explained Nydam, "There is just so much to study in the ocean."
This is the first venture in aquaculture for Jeff Eble of Orleans, the intern from Cape Cod Community College, but he pointed out this is a growing field and he admitted this experience could lead to employment in aquaculture in the future. The assistant natural resource officer praised the efforts of the students, admitting it frees him up from these tasks to spend more time out policing the shellfish grounds, but, he also stresses these students are getting a well rounded experience. The students have the potential to earn up to $1,000 each, over a six week period. Each student is scheduled for 30 hours a week at $6 per hour. The idea behind this program came from Natural Resources Officer Thomas Leach, according to Hopkins, who said Leach contacted him with this concept.
Funding, according to Hopkins, is expected to come from the employers, but he admitted this program got started late, and the salaries this year have been shared by the Cape Cod Community Foundation and the Barnstable County Regional Employment Board. Hopkins' salary also comes from the Summer of Work and Learning Program. These funds were obtained through grants written by Coren L. Peacock of the School To Careers Partnership at the community college. "Ultimately, it would be nice if the town can see the value in this and fund it in the future," explained Hopkins. He said the total cost of the program is $6,000, including the cost of equipment. For Hopkins, who admits to be learning as much as his students, this experience will translate into the classroom in a number of ways, including a plan to establish a self-contained shellfish tank, and to bring students down to the shellfish lab before the clams are transferred int the wild this fall.
On the academic side, the students are also busy keeping logs and journals on this experience, which will be translated into a presentation at the end of the program to the agencies providing the funding. The students will also create a pamphlet for distribution, explaining what is taking place at the nursery. "I hope we have the same project next year," offered Nydam in her excitement.
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