'Doing real science': Butler Lake becomes classroom for Libertyville High students

Having a lake a short walk from campus long has been a useful tool for teachers at Libertyville High School, but the potential lessons to be learned were upped a notch Thursday.

Besides learning about invertebrates like the giant floater mussel and invasive plants like the curly leaf pond weed, students got into some hands-on science by counting, measuring and weighing fish before releasing them into Butler Lake.

Under the guidance of the Lake County Health Department and using Illinois Department of Natural Resources sampling procedures, students surveyed fish, plants and invertebrates get a more complete picture of conditions in the 55-acre lake.

The first collaboration with the health department's ecological services division is anticipated to become an annual event.

“We're just assisting,” explained Gerard Urbanozo, a senior water quality specialist with the health department. “This is completely their (students') own science experiment.”

Beginning about 8:45 a.m. through midafternoon on a picture-perfect day, eight sessions of honors biology and AP environmental science classes, with some outdoor adventure education classes for good measure, were held on the shoreline.

“We've used Butler Lake like our living laboratory for several years, but never to this level,” said Jennifer Kahn, an environmental science teacher and adviser to the school's ECOS Club. The club is pursuing a separate initiative to eradicate invasive species and to plant native species to preserve and improve the shoreline.

Thursday's findings will be tallied, numbers crunched and results compared as an important follow-up to an IDNR survey following a large fishkill several years ago, as well as to historical data available from Lake County, Kahn said.

“They're doing real science,” Kahn said.

Survey results also will be used as a “pretreatment” baseline for comparison when the shoreline restoration is complete.

Using electrofishing methods, health department personnel collected fish and brought them to shore for the students to examine.

“I think it's pretty typical what we're finding but I'm pleasantly surprised how many kids are engaging and getting their hands dirty,” Kahn said.

About 10 types of fish, including bluegill, large-mouth bass and crappie, were pulled from the water. Though too soon for a scientific comparison to previous years, results were promising, Urbanozo said.

“It looks good. The fish are really healthier,” he said. “It's definitely recovered.”

Outdoor adventure education teacher Grant Magnuson says fishing in Butler Lake is a routine part of class.

“We have a lot of success out there,” he said. “We catch a lot of fish.”

Ashley Bell, who teaches honors biology, described Thursday's sessions as providing “a little hands-on science” but said students also were shown aspects of biology beyond medicine or research.

“This helps give them exposure to other careers in the field,” she said. “I feel like some kids are getting some really good experience.”

Butler Lake is publicly owned and managed by the village of Libertyville and open for nonmotorized boating and fishing.

The health department monitors 173 lakes in Lake County. Reports on all lakes are available under the environmental health tab on the department's website.

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  Christian Salgo records results during a fish survey Thursday at Butler Lake in Libertyville. Honors biology and AP environmental science students from Libertyville High School worked under the guidance of scientists with the Lake County Health Department. Brian Hill/
  A water quality specialist with the Lake County Health Department on Thursday holds a fish from Butler Lake to show some of the honors biology and AP environmental science students from Libertyville High School. Brian Hill/
  One of the creatures that were part of a survey of fish and invertebrates conducted by Libertyville High School students Thursday at Butler Lake. Brian Hill/
  Libertyville High School student Ethan Audette returns a fish after measuring it Thursday at Butler Lake. Brian Hill/
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