School without walls
Reservoir-based program gives students hand-on science experience
by E. Assata Wright
Reporter staff writer
May 19, 2013 | 3546 views | 1 1 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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Can tomato plants be successfully transferred from a traditional growing environment to a student-designed floating garden in the Jersey City Reservoir? At press time, the answer to this question was still unknown, but a group of students from the Christa McAuliffe School (PS 28) will one day find out. The tomato plant experiment is just one of many science projects that fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth graders from the school are conducting as part of their work with Project Reservoir.

“The purpose of this program is to introduce children to science activities outside of the classroom, through focusing on our local reservoir,” said Joel Naatus, a seventh grade inclusion (special education) teacher.

At times, the experiments conducted through Project Reservoir, now in its third year, dovetail with the students’ in-class ecology and environmental science curriculum, at other times the work done in this outdoor classroom originates in the reservoir itself. McAuliffe School students who have participated in Project Reservoir have received academic awards, scholarships, and other recognition for their work in the program.

“Ultimately, we hope that some of our students will take this into high school and replicate the program throughout Jersey City high schools,” Naatus said.

‘I can’t believe I’m in Jersey City’

Run as an extracurricular program, Naatus and seventh/eighth grade science teacher Robert O’Donnell take their students to the reservoir on Saturday mornings to run experiments and help raise public awareness of the historic site for the Jersey City Reservoir Alliance.

“We have kids who live in the Heights, who live in the area and have lived here most of their lives and they have no idea what’s behind the [reservoir] walls,” said Naatus.

The Jersey City Reservoir sits behind those imposing stone walls that run the length of Summit Avenue and Central Avenue, between Jefferson Avenue and Reservoir Avenue.

“The number one thing I hear when we bring students to the reservoir for the first time is, ‘I can’t believe I’m in Jersey City,’ ” Naatus added. “This is a great resource that can give students, and other residents, a chance to go be in nature, even though we are living in an urban environment.”

During the students’ weekly visits to the reservoir they have conducted such experiments as the “mosquito reduction initiative,” said Naatus.

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Students collected mosquito larvae and fed them to minnows in an effort to achieve two goals at the same time: give the fish healthy nutrients – and reduce the mosquito population in the reservoir.

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In this experiment, the students collected mosquito larvae and fed them to minnows in their classroom in an effort to achieve two goals at the same time: give the fish healthy nutrients – and reduce the mosquito population in the reservoir.

In another, similar experiment, the students poked holes in trash cans places around the reservoir to drain rain water that would pool at the bottoms of these trash cans, thus creating a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes, some of which could be infected with the deadly West Nile virus.

It is such experiments as these that have won Project Reservoir students first place in the National Lexus Eco Challenge and second place in We Can Change the World, a national competition sponsored by Siemens.

Rich history

The reservoir provided drinking water to city residents until it was decommissioned around 1990.

Built in the late 1870s, the reservoir – officially known for years as Reservoir No. 3 – was planned as part of an integrated series of water supplies that would provide potable water for city residents. For at least 110 years the reservoir system did just that until it was shut down and the city started getting its drinking water from the Boonton Reservoir in Morris County.

After its closure, Reservoir No. 3 was abandoned for years and it soon looked like little more than a rock quarry littered with trash and marked with graffiti.

As land in the city increased in value through the 1990s, developers became interested in purchasing the city-owned property for condo construction, and the city considered its own plans to convert the reservoir into municipal recreational ball fields or a public school campus.

A group of concerned citizens and activists, who ultimately became the Jersey City Reservoir Preservation Alliance, got to together in 2002 to block these plans and began advocating for a different vision for the site.

The alliance would like for the site to be preserved as an “unmanicured” natural environment that maintains the reservoir’s current meadow feel and establishes a sanctuary for the animal and plant life currently living there. However, alliance members would also like to see enhanced recreational features.

In April of 2012 the Reservoir was added to the New Jersey Register of Historic Places.

Expanding the program

The McAuliffe Project Reservoir students who are currently in eighth grade recently began an experiment that they will take with them into high school next year. Since the students will be going to different high schools in the fall, Naatus and O’Donnell believe this will help expand the program beyond McAuliffe.

And students at other Jersey City schools, including the Alexander D. Sullivan School (PS 30), the Nicolaus Copernicus School (PS 25), Academy 1 Middle School, and the Concordia Learning Center at St. Joseph’s School for the Blind have also taken field trips to the reservoir with Naatus and O’Donnell, which they also hope will help spread the program.

“Basically, we’d like to see this project snowballed into a project that is incorporated into every Jersey City school,” O’Donnell, said.

For more information about activities and events at the Jersey City Reservoir, visit www.jcreservoir.org or call (201) 656-5235.

E-mail E. Assata Wright at awright@hudsonreporter.com.

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May 20, 2013
P.S. 8 (Charles E. Trefurt School) was Project Reservoir's 1st collaborator on our remote aquaculture program and were the first school to attend a field trip to the site. They remain a strong supporter of Project Reservoir.

Thank you Ms. Migliozzi, Mr. B, and the entire staff and students!