Another Benefit of Hydro: Educating Students about the Resources in their Own Backyards

From its location on the wooded shores of Lake Wallenpaupack, the windows of Wallenpaupack Area High School in Hawley, Pa., reveal a panorama of wildlife, wetlands and outdoor activities – an inviting, natural extension to the classroom experience.

Lake Wallenpaupack, in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania, is 13 miles long and has an area of 5,700 acres. The lake was formed by Wallenpaupack Dam, a 1,280-foot-long and 70-foot-high structure completed in 1926 that impounds water for a 44-MW project owned by PPL. The lake also provides the backbone for the local tourism economy; habitat for animals, raptors and fish; and opportunities for fishing, boating, waterskiing, camping, hiking, wildlife observation and nature study.

In 1993, the Lake Wallenpaupack Watershed Management District re-ceived grants from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address non-point-source pollution issues. These grants required an educational component, and district personnel approached the high school for ideas. From the start, PPL was part of this business-education partnership.

“After brainstorming among our science department, school administration, PPL staff and representatives from the Lake Wallenpaupack Watershed Management District, we developed the idea of using the Lake Wallenpaupack watershed as an outdoor classroom,” says Gene Shultz, a Wallenpaupack Area High School biology teacher who helped create the curriculum. The Lake Wallenpaupack watershed exhibits many of the physical, biological and cultural features – such as history of agriculture, residential use and using water power for mills – needed for a comprehensive watershed education program.

The curriculum, called “Lake Wallenpaupack: A Resource Worth Protecting,” is a week-long course intended to help the students understand the mechanisms for protecting the lake’s watershed. PPL helped plan the curriculum and edited, designed, laid out and printed the final publication.

The curriculum

During this program, which began in 1994, ninth grade students study the history of the region and lake; the role of the Lake Wallenpaupack Watershed Management District in protecting the watershed; lake, stream and wetland biology; and water and wastewater treatment.

Field observations involve touring the dam and hydro plant and the watershed. Students also board a pontoon boat and conduct the same kinds of water quality studies performed by lake biologists, such as pH, temperature and dissolved oxygen tests. And they explore wetlands and streams to study the living and non-living aspects of those environments.

“The interactive nature of the watershed curriculum keeps the students interested,” Shultz says. “The novelty of being out of school for three days and actively involved in field learning experiences helps to ignite their interest.”

Students definitely enjoy the time outside, says Ryan Neenan, a physics teacher at the high school. “Many of the students comment how they have never been to a farm, seen a cow, toured the dam or even been on the actual lake. For many kids, these are experiences they would never have if it were not for this curriculum,” he says.

Neenan says many “wow” moments have occurred over the years. “The ‘wow’ moment that is often repeated is the realization of the life that is living in the lake,” he says. “The students take water samples from a plankton net. Later, they are amazed, and sometimes disgusted, at what they find living in the water.”

Neenan says another unique encounter was the discovery of dragon fly larvae during the stream study. The larvae were hungry, and students marveled at the way they ate and how they devoured almost anything put next to them. “This was a rare thing to see in nature and is usually only seen in a lab,” he says.

“While on a tour some years ago, we spotted a younger bald eagle perched on one of the osprey nests near the dam,” Neenan recalls. “Despite nearly 30 kids chattering rather loudly and closely below him, he didn’t budge. It was interesting that the eagle was perched on an osprey nest, and it was the closest I or any of the kids had ever been to a wild eagle.”

Since the curriculum began, the structure of the program has changed little. Teachers have updated the technology by using modern computer programs for graphing lake data and implementing global positioning system units for students to develop watershed maps.

Students from the local Wallenpaupack Area High School tour Wallenpaupack Dam and its associated 44-MW hydroelectric plant as part of the
Students from the local Wallenpaupack Area High School tour Wallenpaupack Dam and its associated 44-MW hydroelectric plant as part of the “Lake Wallenpaupack: A Resource Worth Protecting” curriculum supported by project owner PPL.

How PPL is involved

PPL has helped sustain the program, and PPL personnel give presentations on the lake’s history and construction, as well as the company’s shoreline management policy, which aims to protect the environmental, recreational and scenic integrity of the natural buffer that surrounds Lake Wallenpaupack. PPL staff also lead tours of the dam and power plant. And the company provides a boat and access to its docks and wetlands on PPL property. The students use the microscopes in PPL’s laboratory at the Wallenpaupack Environmental Learning Center to investigate the lake water samples.

“PPL updates its presentation to portray the most accurate information to go along with the overall curriculum,” Neenan says. “Recently, PPL added information about its shoreline management program. Many Wallenpaupack High School graduates have returned during the summer to intern with PPL to help maintain the shoreline and enforce these regulations.”

Shultz says the Hawley area and the high school occupy a special place in the hearts of its students and the families who call the lake community home. “I can’t imagine there are many high school classrooms in this country that offer students a view of bald eagles and osprey fishing in a lake,” Shultz says. “Our lake also provides recreation for the many students and their families who fish, boat, hike and camp.”

Neenan says he sees many former students who tell him how well they remember what they learned during the program, even mentioning it as one of their outstanding memories of high school.

Every time a class is brought to the lake, students are asked if they were born in the Hawley area. They’re asked to keep their hands up if their parents were born here … and then their grandparents. By this point, few still have their hands up. “Most of them, many of their teachers, and even the school in its present form and size would not be here if not for the lake and the change it brought to the area,” Neenan says. “No matter where they move to, they are always in some kind of watershed, and the ecology affects the economy and their lives in some way.”

Each year, 250 to 350 students participate in “Lake Wallenpaupack: A Resource Worth Protecting.” As of the end of 2010, more than 5,000 students had completed the course.

– By Bryan Hay, corporate communications with PPL

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