Magnet school students take on invasive species at Taylor Creek

Dylan Silver
Fifth-graders from Lake Tahoe Environmental Magnet School clean up Eurasian milfoil and curly leaf pondweed at Taylor Creek Marsh Thursday.
Dylan Silver / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

Ella Hirschfield held up a big wad of dripping brown underwater weeds she’d pulled from the Taylor Creek Marsh. The 10-year-old along with the rest of her fifth-grade class from the Lake Tahoe Environmental Magnet School spent Thursday afternoon on the front lines of the battle against Lake Tahoe’s invasive species.

“The lake’s clarity is kind of at stake with the Eurasian milfoil and curly leaf pondweed,” Hirschfield said. “We have a lot of these garbage cans that are pretty much full. We’re really making an effort.”

The 60 or so fifth-graders helped divers from the multi-agency Aquatic Invasive Species Program pull invasive plant species from the South Shore marsh. In addition to learning lessons about the lake’s ecosystem, the students provided invaluable help with the plant removal.

“These guys are helping out in a huge way today,” said Sarah Muskopf, an aquatic biologist with the U.S. Forest Service. “We have 120 hands here that are helping pick up fragments of milfoil that would otherwise go into the lake.”

Patrick Stone, a fisheries biologist with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, gave the students lessons on turbidity at the edge of the marsh. Within an hour of the students helping, Stone already saw the difference they made.

“Before they got here, it was just a layer of milfoil,” he said.

The day’s activities translate into memorable learning, said LTEMS teacher Bob Comlossy.

“You can do this kind of stuff in the classroom,” Comlossy said. “But here you’re looking at applications. It puts it in context.”

There’s vocabulary and math takeaways from the day at the beach as well, added teacher Jorie Turner.

“Just over at the turbidity lesson, we were doing math with mean, median and mode,” she said. “And listening to these scientists, they just can’t help but use adult terms.”

Also, the students’ involvement in the Aquatic Invasive Species Program has resonance within the community, said Forest Service spokeswoman Cheva Heck. The kids often teach their parents the things they learn during the outdoors programs, she said.

“I think stuff like this is priceless,” Heck said.

As it turns out, despite all the science stuff, the students would rather spend the day wading in the marsh, collecting weeds and doing the occasional cartwheel in the sand than sitting at their desks in the classroom.

“You capture the kids whose learning style is not geared towards sitting for 6 hours in the classroom,” Comlossy said.

Hannia Medina, 10, agreed with a smile, saying she’d rather catch tadpoles and make a difference in the lake.

“I like being out here more because we get to help out and it’s good for the lake,” she said.

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