Over the course of the last year, a pond has arrived at East Islip High School, and an empty courtyard by the school’s science wing has been radically transformed into a stunning natural ecosystem focused on local plants and wildlife. Students spent over 100 hours digging out the 20-by-10 pond themselves and planting native grasses as well as wildflowers. Over 3 feet deep, the pond will serve as a home for Long Island’s resident fish, ducks and amphibians. Science students from the high school will be able to observe animal life and conduct water sample tests.
Led by teachers Genesis Dawson and Paul McHugh, the pond project was a collaboration among East Islip’s Science Honor Society, the school’s Environment Club and the Environment Green Career Academy.
“The Science Honor Society started this project to create a native ecosystem to use for study in science classrooms,” explained Dawson, the Science Honor Society’s adviser. “This way we could do real world studies without having to leave the school grounds. That saves money for the district and students, as they won’t have to leave the school to go on a field trip for lab activities. Since this was such a large project, we recruited both the Environment Club and the Green Academy. Together we have worked on obtaining donations to get the pond up and running.”
Israel Malinowitzer, the Environment Green Career Academy’s director, said, “The students and teachers worked many days after school to create this beautifully designed pond. These students are always looking for new ways to help the environment and to make education a wonderful learning experience.” Emphasizing how diligent volunteer efforts made the pond possible, Malinowitzer added, “We hope that students and faculty will stop by and enjoy this new addition to the high school courtyard. This pond is just one more example of East Islip pride!”
Donations also went a long way toward seeing the pond come to fruition, according to McHugh, the Environment Club adviser. “We were very fortunate to have received the pond liner as a donation from Firestone,” said Malinowitzer. The pond’s filter system was funded by a grant from the For the Kids Foundation and the compost came from the Town of Islip, while the plantings were donated by the Long Island Native Grasses Association.
An important element of East Islip High School’s pond is that it is attuned to the natural world and reflects its scientific purpose, rather than being a manicured water garden intended to please human eyes. “Most people may look at a native ecosystem and think it is just a bunch of weeds and looks un-manicured,” said Dawson. “Ecosystems that are native to Long Island do not look landscaped. As part of succession – a natural cycle – the ecosystem will change over time to include flora and fauna that will keep the balance of the area. The more biodiversity within the courtyard, the more stable the area. The pond and tall grasses are perfect for the ducks that come back every year to have ducklings. We are planning to continue working within the courtyard to add more native plants within the pond and try to get the courtyard to be self-sustainable. It may take a few years of transition and succession – which may look messy but is a work in progress – but we have faith that the courtyard will be used and studied by science classes for years to come.”