Left: Dr. Rosser and students Cheri and Cynthia Armstrong retrieve eels from the net.
Throughout April and May, 18 Poughkeepsie High School students made their way to Fallkill Creek by the Children’s Museum, located on the waterfront of the City of Poughkeepsie, to help count eels as part of a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation project.
Each day, a different group of students were assigned to check the nets set up at the location. After being taught what to do initially, students excitedly would grab their gear from storage, put on waders and harvest the eels from a specially designed net, teacher Mark Angevine said.
As part of the project, students would count the eels and weigh them. They would also measure the air temperature, water temperature and turbidity, he said.
Poughkeepsie is one of 14 net locations monitored as part of the project.
While this is an extra-curricular activity, there are lessons built in.
“I emphasize ecology with migration, predator/prey relationships, the environmental characteristics that favor eel migration,” said Angevine, who teaches living environment at Poughkeepsie High School. Other PHS teachers also volunteer and incorporate various learning opportunities into their interactions with students.
“What I’m most proud of is that we take everyone,” he said, adding that it also changes the dynamic. “This takes away the authoritarian teacher-student relationship and they see teachers in a different light.”
Nadia Morales has been involved in the project for a couple of years.
“It’s very therapeutic. People get caught up with life but you go into the river and counting eels is very calming,” Morales said. One thing she remembered from the program is a woman teaching them about plants in rocks that grow above and below the water so they get air and water.
Morales said she preferred going into the water and taking the eels from the net because it “felt more involved.”
On the last day, Angevine gives out T-shirts, and Iron Eel Awards for the greatest number of hours volunteered. Students receive a certificate from the DEC and also take a survey about what they learned.
This year’s Iron Eel winners were: Brandon Cao with nine hours while Cheri Armstrong, Cynthia Armstrong, Nadia Morales and Isaias Bautista-Bautista all had seven hours.
Below: NYS DEC’s Chris Bowser, PHS Principal Kelleyann Royce-Giron and students Brandon Cao and Zain Khan work at the site.