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Robotics team connects the dots in lesson about runoff water


Director of Communications
Pope John XXIII Regional High School

SPARTA — It may have felt like 100 degrees outside the Pope John XXIII Middle School on Tuesday, but that didn’t stop the school’s robotics team from trying to figure out a particular problem in nature.

The robotics team met with representatives from the Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority-Wallkill River Watershed Management Group to learn about storm water runoff, how it impacts the environment and how to manage it when it occurs.

“It was a lot of fun,” Pope John sixth grade student James Ilardi said. “We kind of had to connect the dots. It was like a puzzle.”

“It was like a murder mystery play,” added Pope John seventh grade student Ally Karanikas. “We had to find out what runoff is, where it comes from, why it does it and how to solve the problem.”

It was the second meeting the robotics team had with Watershed Director Nathaniel Sajdak and Watershed Education/Outreach Specialist Kristine Rogers during the summer. The squad met Sajdak and Rogers at Station Park in Sparta to learn about water pollution.

The robotics team was learning about storm water runoff because they had built a field for their upcoming project for the First Lego League in November, according to team head coach Anne Karanikas.

“The legos they created are in a way to replicate what the problem is with water,” Karanikas said. “There is a water treatment center, there is a fountain, there is a flower and all these things they need their robot to do. So, what they are learning about here with storm water runoff and how they can best use it and maintain it is really connecting to what their robot will have to do.”

When the team got together Tuesday, they first conducted experiments to see how fast and how much water soaks into mulch, grass and concrete. They did it by sticking a half-cut bottle of water into each surface, pouring the water into it and timing how long it takes to empty.

Christian Marlin, a seventh grade student, said it was important for the team to know how this works on their campus because the school is nearby Fox Hollow Lake

“I thought it was interesting because if we have lots of water running off and if we can figure out what surfaces absorb water, then we can put things in place so that it does not run off into places like Fox Hollow,” Marlin said.

Then, the team learned about the using maintenance systems such as rain garden, which is “a depressed area in the landscape that collects rain water from a roof, driveway or street and allows it to soak into the ground,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Rogers simulated one to the group using sponges and a Ziploc bag.

Finally, they walked around the school and observed the numerous storm drains, gutters and pipes that are used to help direct the runoff water. As the team discovered each drain, gutter and pipe and found where it all led to, they started to realize how important it is to have these systems in place to limit runoff water and how they have to be proactive in maintaining them.

“It helped us find places where they weren’t necessarily problems, but places where we can improve as a school,” Pope John seventh grade student Danielle Kelly said. “

This type of recognition was something Sajdak and Rogers were thrilled to see from this team.

“I thought it was tremendous,” Sajdak said. “They have a clear sense of understanding of their watershed and passion for wanting to help improve their watershed.”

“I was happy to see them build off our previous meeting,” Rogers said. “This is a passionate group and they were able to make a lot of connections to get them involved in something like this.”