Wading into a learning experience


Jessica Lumpkin crouched carefully in the water, retrieved a small glass tube from her sweat shirt pocket and put it into the stream, capturing a sample of Middle Patuxent River water. She handed it to a fellow student, who tested it for acidity and recorded the results on a chart.

Lumpkin, 17, a senior at Oakland Mills High School, was one of 19 students in the high school's advanced placement environmental science class who participated in World Water Monitoring Day on Tuesday, an annual event aimed at promoting awareness of water quality.

Wearing gloves and rubber boots, and helped by state and local environmental officials, the Howard County students waded into the sandy water near Columbia to take samples, measuring levels of dissolved oxygen, acidity, water clarity and temperature.

"It benefits students because they are learning about their environment and learning about a healthy environment and what to look for in rivers and streams," said Eric Dougherty, a geologist for the Maryland Department of the Environment.

The event is sponsored by the American Clean Water Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency and other national and international agencies. Last year, 6,527 sites in 50 countries were registered for water-measuring. Organizers said they expect to exceed those numbers during this year's worldwide monitoring effort.

In Maryland, test kits were provided by the Maryland Department of the Environment to schools, dozens of which around the state have participated in the past. The results of their tests, along with those from sites around the world, will be posted on the American Clean Water Foundation's Web site.

Yesterday, Lumpkin and Jennifer Dinoto, her science partner, sifted through an orange bucket packed with measuring materials used for the project.

Lumpkin took the samples, capturing water in a tube and testing it with dissolved oxygen tablets and a thermometer. Dinoto read the instructions, collected the data and presented the results to the class that morning.

For Lumpkin and other students that morning, the project was a chance to use the knowledge they had gained in their classroom.

"This was a good project. You really can't learn this in a textbook," Lumpkin said.

At the Middle Patuxent River, some students were surprised to find tadpoles and other organisms in the water. Others were amazed at the readings.

"I'm surprised that the water around here would be dirty," said John Thornton, 16, a senior at the high school. "When you think of Howard County, you think of clean."


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