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Cambridge High School Teacher Has High Hopes for Alewife Reservation and DCR Improvements
by Susan Agger, Coordinator, Maynard Ecology Center, Cambridge Public Schools
added to website February 27, 2008

The Alewife reservation is an invaluable resource for Cambridge Public Schools students to engage in meaningful field studies related to the CPS earth and life science curriculum. Not only is the Alewife Reservation accessible by MBTA but also there exists multiple and differing sites on the reservation to provide for a variety of learning experiences and ongoing studies. The Friends of Alewife Reservation have helped facilitate use of the Reservation for educational purposes and have been receptive to requests for information and access. Through regular reporting and good stewarding, the Friends of Alewife Reservation have created biodiversity lists and information online that provide a source of data for student work.

Over the past four years students have participated in field studies utilizing the reservation for activities such as using sweep nets and pitfall traps to inventory area arthropods, identifying plant species and creating class herbariums using plant presses. Middle school students take turns performing water quality tests on the Little River using electronic probes, water quality test kits and by monitoring macro-invertebrates as bio-indicators. These are a few examples of activities that enrich the science classroom.

Last year was the second year third grade students from three Cambridge schools participated in a grant funded program partnering Mass Audubon Habitat staff, classroom teachers and CPS Science Teacher Mentors to help students study the differences and similarities between their school yard habitats, areas surrounding the Charles River, Black's Nook Pond at Fresh Pond and sites on the Alewife Reservation. During the Habitats program students focused on collecting and analyzing data and used observational drawing as documentation. One day while visiting the reservation, third grade students watched in amazement as large carp bobbed up displaying large open mouths visible from under the duckweed. While sitting at the canoe launch, students from another class observed a swan swim by, a green heron at waters edge, a pair of Canada geese protecting four goslings and a busy grackle, dragging long sticks and reeds to weave into a nest in a nearby tree. These experiences not only engage students but they create in them an awareness of nature that they didn't have before. Soon they begin to notice and report similar occurrences they observe in other parts of Cambridge.

While the Reservation is rich in biodiversity, it also faces the challenges of an urban wild under the constant threat of development, the threat of invasive species, pollution and overuse. Despite this reality, students have observed and learned about the resilience of organisms and the richness of the area first hand. They are amazed to learn that coyote, fox and beavers pass through the Reservation. Alewife continues to be valued as an important urban green space, part of the "wildlife corridor" loosely connecting the Alewife Reservation, the Fresh Pond Reservation and the Mount Auburn Cemetery to the Charles River.

In the future, our hope is to continue to utilize the reservation for authentic field studies thus enriching science curriculum in Cambridge. In the process we also hope to build local environmental awareness among students and a sense of stewardship in the future citizens of Cambridge. In helping to do this, I have come to realize the importance of becoming a member of FAR and supporting FAR to continue to advocate and help improve the Alewife Reservation ecosystem, accessibility and safety so that Cambridge Public Schools students may continue to learn about and enjoy the wonders of this unique urban wild.

Susan Agger
Coordinator, Maynard Ecology Center
Cambridge Public Schools