Lara Trale, who teaches the sophomore English classes at Oakland High School’s Environmental Science Academy, wrote this piece about an ongoing class project — with help from some of her students.
Stop by Lake Merritt most Tuesdays, and you’ll see dozens of high school students pulling up samples of the lake’s algae-rich water, squinting into refractometers, and peering down as a lowered Secchi disk disappears into the murk.
This is routine for the 70 sophomores of Oakland High School’s Environmental Science Academy, who have been recording water quality data since September 20 as part of their ongoing monitoring of Lake Merritt. They analyze the lake’s turbidity, salinity, density, dissolved oxygen levels, and acidity. They record water and air temperatures. Microscope analysis of a plankton tow reveals some of the smallest marine organisms living in Lake Merritt.
This Tuesday, Nov. 15, three representatives of environmental firm CH2M Hill observed the students in their water monitoring work. This marked the start of a partnership between the ESA and CH2M Hill.
Two days later, the ESA sophomores visited the company’s downtown Oakland offices to learn more about environmental engineering and professional water quality monitoring.
Sophomore Geary Yu said the visit made him want to become an engineer. “I want to make a change, like them, in the environment,” he said.
The students will continue their weekly trips to Lake Merritt throughout the school year, and some might apply for summer internships with the firm. The two-hour block of biology and environmental science classes allows them time to walk the mile from school to the lake.
“I feel that we are doing a good thing by monitoring the lake,” said sophomore Robert Hubbard. “We’re helping to improve the habitat for marine life by tracking water levels, density, and salinity.”
His classmate, Karen Luo, said these classes are more interesting than “regular” biology.
“We are not just reading knowledge from the book,” she said. “We are going outside to learn more about environmental issues in the community.”