AP Environmental Science

Local Fieldwork Adds Engagement

Brooke Habinowski and Olivia Ofer wade into Lake Waccabuc carrying small vials to fill with water. Back at the worktable, the two seniors will test the samples for nitrates and phosphates.

“Let’s go out as far as we can,” said Brooke. When the water nears the tops of their waders, they pause to enjoy the lake sparkling in the morning sun, rimmed with red and gold foliage. It is Monday morning, second period, and look where they are!

A rigorous, place-based curriculum

Labs Tailored to Katonah-Lewisboro

Local fieldwork in Katonah-Lewisboro’s wealth of open space is what makes John Jay’s AP Environmental Science (APES) one of the school’s signature classes. Taught by Joe Gaudio and Matthew Funnell, it catches students who already love nature and develops their skills in observation and analysis.

The experiential class is also rigorous; students are able to earn college credits for the elective through the University in the High School Program at SUNY Albany.

Already this year, APES students have tested water samples at Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, participated in sustainable agriculture at Hilltop Hanover Farm, observed the Hudson River on the Clearwater, and explored Sterling Mine, a no-longer used zinc mine. Later that week, they’d participate in a hawk watch at Butler Memorial Sanctuary and try their hand at bird banding at Westmoreland Sanctuary. In the spring, the students will analyze centuries-old morbidity patterns at the area’s historic cemeteries. And more.

Back on the bus, the students are happy to chat about the class.

Everyone loves the outdoor aspect of APES. “Going outside is great break in the day,” said Olivia. For Brooke, the class is part of a larger sequence of biology courses. “It’s widened my perspective on the environment and conservation,” she said.

Senior Brandon Lasota said that he plans on studying science in college. He and his team noticed that the levels of dissolved oxygen were lower near shore, and the levels of phosphates higher, possibly because of the number of dead leaves in the shallow water.

Making connections between natural systems is one of the goals of APES. The students' engagement shows that hands-on learning is helping make that happen.