Maine middle school students participate in ‘hands-on’ environmental education summer camp

University of Maine at Machias professor Tora Johnson (center, wearing red top) talks with students in the week-long Maine Environmental Summer Session for Youth camp during a field trip along the Middle River in Machias on Tuesday.
Tim Cox | BDN
University of Maine at Machias professor Tora Johnson (center, wearing red top) talks with students in the week-long Maine Environmental Summer Session for Youth camp during a field trip along the Middle River in Machias on Tuesday. Buy Photo
Posted Aug. 06, 2013, at 5:44 p.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — The exuberance of middle school children learning about the environment and climate change for a week apparently is exceeded only by their capacity for imagination.

Seventeen students are participating in the Maine Environmental Summer Session for Youth, a week-long ‘camp’ at the University of Maine at Machias. The youths, from throughout the state, were giddy and inventive as they met in a classroom on campus Tuesday before going out for their second field trip of the week. Professor Tora Johnson, coordinator of the camp, briefly lectured the group on climate change and its potential impacts.

Johnson noted that slight but perceptible global warming eventually will melt polar ice caps, raise sea levels and flood some areas. The effects on Maine, particularly, will be more numerous and include stronger storms from snowstorms to hurricanes.

“How can we prepare?” Johnson asked the students.

One boy suggested living underground, while another proposed setting up home on another planet.

On the second field trip of the week, the group visited an area along the Middle River in Machias and received training in how to use hand-held GPS devices. The students would take readings and then return to the university’s geographic information systems laboratory to create maps illustrating projected storm flooding.

Maine Environmental Summer Session for Youth provides an opportunity for children to be exposed to the environmental sciences as well as participate in hands-on research related to the university, Johnson said. In addition, they get a “collegiate experience.”

On Monday, the group visited the Downeast Institute for Applied Marine Research, a field station of University of Maine at Machias, on Beals Island, while Tuesday evening, the group planned to monitor breeding frogs at a nearby vernal pool.

They students will visit the Downeast Salmon Federation’s East Machias Aquatics Research Center on Wednesday, and on Thursday, they are scheduled to build model wind turbines as part of a study of alternative energy sources.

Of course, the field trips and lab work are paired with traditional summer camp activities during the evenings, including swimming, movies and games.

A second camp session for high school students begins next week.

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