HOUGHTON - Students across the Copper Country are headed back to school, and many of them will be just as quickly head right back outside, where they'll be giving back to their communities and getting some real-world education working on projects sponsored by the Lake Superior Stewardship Initiative.
Fifteen local elementary, middle and high schools are involved in the initiative, which is administered by the Western Upper Peninsula Center for Science, Math and Education and is part of the larger Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative, said Shawn Oppliger, center director and LSSI project manager.
He said the main objective is to get students outside doing work that's significant to them, their communities and the environment, with a focus on Lake Superior and its watershed.
In this September 2013 file photo, Lake Linden-Hubbell High School biology students, from left, Abby Sutherland, Becky Nakkula, Carli Ongie and Lucas Klein take measurements at the Torch Lake Superfund site. Lake Linden’s stamp sand monitoring is sponsored by the Lake Superior Stewardship Initiative. (Houghton Daily Mining Gazette file photo)
"Through that process, students learn to become contributing citizens in their communities," Oppliger said.
Joan Chadde, LSSI project adviser and education program coordinator for the science, math and education center, said each project is a partnership between a community group with a need and a school with the initiative to meet it. The LSSI provides mini-grants to support the projects, as well as professional development and hands-on support.
A few projects have included school gardens and accompanying education on healthier eating, at Calumet's CLK Elementary and elsewhere; Dollar Bay High School's nationally recognized underwater remote operated vehicle program, created to help Isle Royale National Park search for zebra mussels; and at least a few nature trails, including one at Lake Perrault recently completed by students at Jeffers High School.
"At Lake Perrault they had to clean up a lot of broken glass," Oppliger said. "Now people can enjoy the park because of the work of the students."
At the Lake Linden-Hubbell Public Schools, elementary students have built a disc golf course, while Nicholas Squires' eighth- and 10th-grade students have focused on environmental monitoring and remediation of stamp sands, as well as chemical monitoring of the Trap Rock River.
Squires said the monitoring involves quadrat analysis of the sands - where students identify 1-meter-square sections of land and measure plant diversity, surface temperature, root depth and take plant cuttings to measure biomass - and then send the results to the Environmental Protection Agency.
"They've been interested in some of the work we've done," Squires said. "We've sent some of the data sets to them, and we're in the waiting process to see if that's something they want to continue."
On the Trap Rock, students use test kits to measure copper and oxygen concentrations near the river's headwaters.
That current GLSI grant provides $145,000 over two years, with another grant of $35,000 annually also helping fund operations, Oppliger said.