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Learning about human impact on the environment can be more fun hands-on, as county students found out this week at Nanjemoy Creek Environmental Education Center.

Students participating in Scholars Targeting Academic Rigor with Success spent the week taking water samples, observing erosion up close while canoeing on Nanjemoy Creek, and talking via telepresence with students in North Carolina, who are having a similar experience at Duke University.

STARS is designed for students who have the potential to reach great heights, but just need a push in the right direction.

STARS programs for each county high school are being taught this summer.

Incoming freshmen from county high schools participated in the program in conjunction with Duke University.

Ian Buter, the county schools’ content specialist for science, said he would like to see the program continue.

Students learned about the little things people do that have an impact on the environment, he said.

“All the tests we’re doing, we’re learning how the earth is being affected by nature and human impact,” said Seth Johnson, 14.

Seth explained that in one experiment, they tested for various chemicals in water samples taken from the creek.

He and lab partner Tommy Snyder, 13, waited patiently for one of the samples to change colors to determine whether phosphorus was present.

In their particular sample, it was not.

Seth said he learned that many times when testing for certain things, “negative is a good result.”

Some areas of the creek tested positive for phosphorus and ammonia nitrogen. Both chemicals come from fertilizers.

Students concluded that because the area has a lot of farm land, manure is one reason for a positive test for those chemicals.

Students also saw examples of erosion while canoeing.

Shami Daniels, 14, said it was a good experience to see examples of erosion that can’t be seen easily from the shore.

“At first I thought it was supposed to be like that,” she said.

Laura Taylor, environmental education assistant for the education center, said that it was good for the students to have an opportunity to see examples of erosion rather than just hear the instructors talk about it.

Students shared their observations and analysis with high school students participating in the program on the Duke campus.

Seth said that it was interesting to compare results with students from a different location.

Piccowaxen Middle School science teacher Brian Colaizzi said that the program prepares students for high school by actively engaging them in environmental activities in an outdoor classroom and incorporating different types of technology, such as telepresence.

Students from the two programs gave final presentations Friday morning, summing up what they learned through the week.

Shami said that the weeklong camp is getting her more used to science and what she will be learning in high school come fall.

Mary Dewel, 14, said she never really liked science but has come to appreciate it more from the activities at the program.

“For me, this is a fun camp to make sure I’m not losing any of the knowledge I got in middle school,” Seth said.

Tommy said the camp is helping to “refresh my brain.”

Students worked with instructors from the environmental center and area middle school science teachers.

Anthony Sgro, who taught science at Theodore G. Davis Middle School and will start at Mattawoman Middle School as a science teacher in the fall, said that students prepare for high school through the program and are reinforcing things they learned while in middle school by applying what they learned in the classroom to real-life situations.