ST. ALBANS CITY — Students of all ages in the Maple Run School District got to be environmental scientists for a day.

On Tuesday, elementary students from St. Albans City School kicked off Bio Blitz, an outdoor education program organized by Lauren Weston, district manager of the Franklin County Natural Resources Conservation District, and Molly Managan, a Bellows Free Academy science teacher. On Wednesday, high schoolers from Bellows Free Academy participated.

“Understanding what we have and the biodiversity that we have, you come to appreciate things like the cricket in your backyard,” Managan said. “You start to learn really interesting things about native pollinators and appreciate what we have and the need for it.”

Students traipsed the trails at Hard’Ack Recreation Area and the wetlands of the City School pointing out every root, flower, bug and berry they could find. They also logged their findings into an online crowd-sharing database called iNaturalist, where outdoor enthusiasts, scientists and others help identify the findings.

“Ideally, this will encourage students and their parents and their families to go out, explore and be more comfortable in these more natural spaces,” Weston said. “Having people have an appreciation for what they can experience, understanding that it’s always changing. To appreciate it, to recognize the value of it will be the next step of this ecosystem and society in general.”

The three-day Bio Blitz program is the product of a course taken over the summer by Managan at the North Branch Nature Center.

Through her studies, she implemented miniature Bio Blitzes and wanted to bring the practice back to the Maple Run district.

With Weston’s help, along with some volunteers from the Franklin County Natural Resources Conservation District and the Missisquoi River Basin Association, groups of students were split up into small groups Tuesday through Thursday, armed with iPads and clipboards to venture into the woods.

The project

Managan said the Bio Blitz project was born out of her summer studies, and that the St. Albans City School jumped right on board, organizing periods of time with local experts for nature walks three days this week.

Small groups of students were led by volunteers on Tuesday into the woods on school property to look at mushrooms, tree matter, plants, bugs and birds. They recorded their “observations” by taking photos on a smart device. 

Each “observation,” counted for one picture of a specific thing the student saw on their nature walk such as a bee or wild grapes.

The goal was to collectively gather 1,000 observations using iNaturalist on iPads and smartphones, an app which crowd shares photos of flora and fauna in order to identify organisms and record them in a constantly-growing database for reference and research.

Students were also given a guidebook, “2021 Maple Run Unified School District BIOBLITZ,” created using funds from the Upper Missisquoi and Trout Rivers Wild and Scenic Committee and Vermont Community Foundation in previous years.

The booklets contained helpful safety tips and drawings and explanations of different plants, both harmful and beneficial.

City School student Annabelle “A.J.” Johnson said the Bio Blitz-style of study helped her get into the field she hopes to take on later in life: entomology, the study of insects.

“The way that [bugs] organs and systems work, it’s very interesting,” Johnson said.

 By 11 a.m. on Tuesday, Weston said the elementary students had recorded almost 400 observations. Students were also sharing their findings on their own social media pages as the lessons went on.

High school students tended to be a bit more preferential when logging their findings, searching for the most unusual or unique thing they could find.

“We would love to be able to do Bio Blitzes all across Franklin County,” Weston said. “We just think it’s really important that the students — and everyone else, too — really understand the world around them, and notice their environments.”

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