RICHMOND — Students in Dan Potts’ eighth grade science class left classrooms and computer screens behind Wednesday and took to the great outdoors. Social studies teacher Jay Sutton also accompanied the group.

Traveling on foot from the Chariho campus, the students ended up at Meadow Brook Pond.

“This is the same group of kids that I had out last year at this time,” Potts said. “It’s a great scenario. They’ve increased their kayaking skills; they get to see the pond in a whole different light compared to last year. The severe drought has just wreaked havoc on this body of water.”

Tucker Malenfant and Cameron McDermott, both 13, kayaked the pond and saw how the current drought has affected the water level.

“The water level used to be like, 5 to 10 feet higher than it would be now,” Malenfant said. “It’s super low. We saw a bunch of mussels, and they were all lined up on the beach, and [Potts] taught us about how they move and he told us that it was lowered so much that they couldn’t get back, so they were all just stranded up there. Same with the fish that couldn’t make it back.”

McDermott said he was struck by the depleted state of the pond.

“This is the lowest it’s ever been, and hopefully, we don’t see it like this ever again,” he said. “ I saw dead mussels, dead fish and that was pretty much it. Everything’s all dried up. It’s like, all marshy.”

Potts takes each of his five science classes on a field trip that lasts the entire school day.

“I have five classes,” he said. “This is the fifth class I have to take out. We spread that over a series of three weeks. ... The kids show up to school like a regular school day. They go to their first period special class, their unified arts class, and then Mr. Sutton and I come into the classroom and make sure the kids have all their gear and then we leave the building.”

With permission from Tuckahoe Turf manager Jason Santos, the students and their teachers walked across the turf farm and crossed into the Carolina Management area.

“We talk about land use and how the Rhode Island state government maintains the Carolina Management area, and then we continue to hike through the Carolina Management Area, come down to Meadow Brook Pond, eat lunch and then we’ve got about an hour and a half of kayaking,” Potts said.

Sutton supplements Potts’ teaching on science and environment with a lesson on how the state government protects open space.

There are also follow-up lessons for the students after the field trip. 

“We have our science journals and we collect three leaves on our trip and put those in our science notebooks, and we’ll identify those trees when we get back to class,” Potts said. “And then we have discussions about the drought, land use, human interaction with the environment, what we can do as far as a positive piece of human impact, and then we talk about the negative piece of human impact that we’ve seen on that day."

McDermott said he enjoyed learning outside.

“Somebody like me, I’m not really much of an active person, but doing something like this, later on after the day’s over, I feel very happy that we went out, and it was a nice day today,” he said. 

Malenfant also enjoyed the experience.

“It’s just good to be out in nature for a little bit and not have to worry about all of our extra work and just focus on what’s going on right now,” she said.

Potts said students need the occasional break from their computers. 

“It’s a great experience to get kids away from their screens,” he said. “Put your screen down, get out and enjoy nature. Learn something new and hopefully make a connection that you’re going to continue to do those things the rest of your lives.”

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