Hands on in AP Environmental Science

Experiential, Inquiry Based Learning

Senior Sawyer Cummings stood in Lake Waccabuc, the water lapping halfway up his waders, taking in the beauty. Red and gold leaves rimmed and reflected in the shimmering water, not a cloud in the sky. He took a deep breath and basked in sunshine for a moment. “One period you’re in a classroom, the next period you’re out in the middle of a lake,” he said. “It’s pretty cool.”

He turned back to his classmates Ty Gregor and Jeremy Cisneros. The team worked together collecting water samples in small vials to test for phosphates, conductivity and temperature.

testing water as a team

Collecting and analyzing data

Learning with a sense of place

Local fieldwork in Katonah-Lewisboro’s wealth of open space is what makes John Jay’s Advanced Placement Environmental Science one of the school’s signature classes. Taught by Joe Gaudio and Matthew Funnell, it catches students who already love nature, and, in many cases, know a substantial amount already through environmental camps and programs, 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.


using Katonah-Lewisboro's wealth of open space as a classroom

Throughout the year, AP Environmental Science classes test soil and water samples at Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, collect macroinvertebrates in Cross River, restore trails at Leon Levy Preserve, participate in a hawk watch at Butler Memorial Sanctuary, try their hand at bird banding at Westmoreland Sanctuary, even analyze centuries-old morbidity patterns at the area’s historic cemeteries. And more. 

learning to use various tools

Learning Why monitoring resources is important

At Lake Waccabuc, students use professional grade water sampling equipment--tubes, gauges and meters--to test for levels of dissolved oxygen, pH, turbidity and nitrates. Mia Gottesfeld and Caitlin Walsh net one of the little fish swimming around their waders, which Gaudio identifies as a baby trout—an indicator organism in a healthy lake ecosystem. 

The teachers emphasize that water from the lake flows into the New York City reservoir system. “This is someone’s drinking water,” said Dr. Linda Burke—the teacher who developed the syllabus and now participates as a chaperone. “That’s why it’s very important that we monitor its quality.”

Seeing the interrelationships of the natural world

Back on the bus, the students are happy to chat about the class. “I like nature,” said Jeremy. “I’m interested in the way that everything in the environment works together in an intricate system.”

Mia remembers Hilltop Hanover Farm as a favorite field trip so far this year. “We harvested and ate carrots and different vegetables,” she said. “It was interesting to learn about sustainable farming.”

Later that week, the class reviewed its findings from Lake Waccabuc and completed a Water Quality Inventory using guidelines provided by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The results found the lake to fall in good range.

Celebrating an accomplishment