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Heartland Christian Academy: Looking for clues below the surface

"Fewer weeds and more bugs," said Principal Robert Roach to the seventh- and eighth-graders in Carolyn Johannsen's class from Heartland Christian Academy Thursday at Lake Bemidji State Park.

The students spent the afternoon assessing the health of Lake Bemidji by walking waist-deep in water and sampling life beneath its surface.

Seventh- and eighth-grade classes from Heartland have sampled Lake Bemidji on the same day and at the same spot for eight consecutive years. Roach says the study is important for many reasons.

"Most of our students who come to our school are from the Bemidji Area," said Roach. "They make a personal commitment to take care of Lake Bemidji."

Before any sampling began, the science class was split into two groups. Wearing oversized waders and carrying long-handled nets, students in one group scrounged through mud and scraped along tall grasses looking to scoop up anything that moved.

Insects, bugs, snails and fish were put into a large pail, sorted out and later identified by the students.

"Their findings are very important," said Roach. "What they find or don't find tells us something about the pollution levels of the lake."

Some organisms are tolerant of pollution while other things, like dragonfly larva, are not, he said.

Nearby, students in another group learned how to use a Global Positioning System, also called a GPS, to locate the exact location of their sampling area. They then used a variety of tests to determine wind speed, temperature, acidity levels, clarity of water and oxygen levels.

"Doing this at the beginning of the school year is nice because it gets students excited about science," said Johannsen.

In the past the Heartland science class has submitted its water quality study to James Owens, a staff member and River Watch coordinator at the Headwaters Science Center. Owens said looking at what schools have found through water sampling helps him assess what, if any, changes are occurring in the lake.

"We can assess whether a lake is excellent, good, fair, or poor, based on what type of organisms are found and the number of different species that are found in the lake," said Owens.

So far, so good, said Owens. "We have seen improvement in the health of Lake Bemidji from what it used to be 20 years ago."