Each year in early September dedicated teachers, educational administrators, volunteers and fish biologists take a voyage down the Salmon and Aniak rivers with students from the area and beyond…and share in an experience, that for some, is a trip of a lifetime.
Here’s this year’s trip recapped by the fisheries biologist who went along, Doug Molyneaux – retired Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game research biologist for the Kuskokwim Area.
Kuspuk School District held their 9th annual Math-Science Expedition at the end of August and hosted 31 students from 7th to 12th grade. Twenty five students were from Kuspuk School District villages — Aniak, Chuathbaluk, Crooked Creek, Sleetmute, Stony River, and Kalskag. Also 6 students from the Voyage to Excellence Program from Akiachak, and Akiak (Yupiit School District) and Chenega Bay (Chugach School District).
This annual adventure centers around a 9 day rafting trip down the Salmon and Aniak rivers during which students focus on daily outdoor related math and science activities as well as sessions focused on team building, and developing leadership and communication skills.
I served as volunteer science advisor to the expedition and coordinated students in their quest to survey the juvenile fish and benthic macroinverteberate (aquatic bugs that are important fish food) communities. The objective was to follow a scientific sampling design, complete with replicate sampling, to determine if these animal communities change as we rafted from the swift headwaters of the Salmon River where it flows across bedrock, through the log jammed shores and cobble lined bottom of the Salmon River, to the deep water of the mainstream Aniak River where the scent of decomposing spawned out salmon was still strong in the air. In all we sampled from 6 different locations along the stream corridor. At each location juvenile fish were sampled using 4 minnow traps baited with salmon eggs and the invertebrate community was sample with replicate “kick” samples using aquarium nets.
The goal was for each student to compile a data set that they could take back to the classroom as the foundation for an independent study or senior project, a science report, or to develop a science project. As is the case in the professional world, tracking and organizing the data into a useful format is a challenge. Students on this expedition were diligent in keeping up with that challenge and compiled a fine data set to which they can apply their math and investigative skills. The students mounted a most impressive expedition, and I was proud to have been a part of it.
Each year teacher and event orchestrator Erich Kuball needs to find contributors to fund this worthwhile event. Suggestions are welcome and should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org Perhaps your school district would like to sponsor some students from local communities, or maybe local business would like to contribute. If Mr. Kuball is able to again find funds, I hope to be invited back as a volunteer to work with students in building on the survey we began this year.
Kudos to Mr. Kuball, Sue Hoeldt, and Todd Boynton for their impassioned devotion to this excellent program.
Also thanks to Excel Alaska staff Mark Meng, Tony Wilson and Rene Welty for teaching students about leadership and communication. Thanks too to Kuskokwim Native Association, Aniak Sub Regional Clinic, and Dave Cannon who provided supplies used in the stream survey and the expedition in general.