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Ecology Day a Win-Win for Prairie and Students

Ecology Day a Win-Win for Students, Park District

A community partnership was rekindled when Northbrook Junior High seventh-grade students spent a morning experiencing the ecology of their own backyard.

Techny Prairie Park, maintained by the Northbrook Park District, is a short hike away from the school and has been the site of the early September half-day field trip for many years. After a one-year COVID hiatus, the students were back on Sept. 3, and the park district couldn’t be happier. 

The students rotate through four stations. They look for vertebrae and invertebrates in river water samples, test the pond and river water for pH level and oxygen, remove invasive species from the prairie and discuss conservation.

“I’m happy (the park district) was able to welcome us back so warmly and tell us we have such value to their operation,” said Mark Frye, the science teacher who organized the event.

The prairie restoration has had a lasting impact on the site, said Chris Ryerson, Northbrook Park District Grounds Supervisor. “Even though this is only a few hours of work, (the students) manage to remove a pickup truck’s worth of unwanted plants.  One of the main invasive plants we are removing is Purple loosestrife. One plant can produce up to 500,000 seeds, so removing them is very important,” he said

Science Teacher Amber Paull managed the vertebrae/invertebrate station, where students analyzed water taken from the river a few yards away. This year, several crawfish were found in the samples. “Did you see the crawfish?” she asked the students. “You don’t see a lot of the small creatures this year because the crawfish is a large vertebra and eats all the smaller ones. That means the river is very healthy because crawfish do not survive in polluted water.”

The day leaves a lasting impact on the students as well, many of whom visit the park recreationally.

“I didn’t know what exactly was here,” said Mariella Popelmayer, looking up from the crawfish in a plastic tub. “It was fun to test the water.”

Owen Weintraub said he will look differently at the purple flowers that speckle the meadow. “They said they were invasive.” “We pulled up three buckets of them,” added classmate Lukas Erdbeer.


StStudents look for vertebrae in the river water samples.

Students test the pH in river and pond water samples.