SALEM — In July, Linda Saris, director of Salem CyberSpace, launched a six-week project to help a team of at-risk Salem High School students perform better on the MCAS. By Aug. 17, six students had identified E. coli in the Bass River.
Yesterday, they took action.
After attributing the problem to dog owners not picking up after their pets, they installed three dispensers with disposable bags for walkers to use.
“We had to choose a science project and decided to do ours on bacteria,” said student Leslie Scarpatte, 14, of Salem. “We went to Leslie’s Retreat and took some samples from the river, the beach, and cleaned up.”
With a $40,000 grant from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Saris implemented the service-learning project to focus on helping students in biology and English without it feeling like school. The National Park Service and Salem Sound Coastwatch were also partners under the grant.
“I think every week, we were at the beach at least once,” Saris said. “The key was not to make it feel like school.”
After sampling Salem’s rivers and beaches, students detected E. coli in the Bass River with the help of Barbara Warren, executive director of Salem Sound Coastwatch. They brainstormed ways to decrease the presence of nearby dog waste and came up with the idea to install dispensers.
Saris pitched the service-learning project with an interactive and hands-on appeal. While many in the group are English as a Second Language students, they were challenged to speak English daily with the help of ESL teacher Mary Kate Adams. Science teacher Graeme Marcoux instructed the team in biology processes, and Warren informed them on a variety of environmental issues.
“I was very impressed with what they decided to do to help,” Warren said. “They became much more environmentally aware.”