DEC involves students in maintaining Willets Creek

Randall Waszynski
Posted 2/27/20

West Islip Schools has initiated a movement to pick up where the Department of Environmental Conservation has left off at Willets Creek, which borders the east end …

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DEC involves students in maintaining Willets Creek


West Islip Schools has initiated a movement to pick up where the Department of Environmental Conservation has left off at Willets Creek, which borders the east end of the high school grounds. Through the district’s science and engineering technology program, a newly created association called WIS CREEK, consisting of students and staff, will begin work alongside analysts maintaining the creek.

CREEK is an acronym for Creek Restoration, Environmental Education and Knowledge. Led by core staff within the school program, WIS CREEK allows students the opportunity to not only bring the classroom to a waterway but also to be a key component in maintaining its environmental health. 

Diane Munno, a physics and forensics teacher at West Islip Senior High School who also has taught biology here, said the DEC will be training the group on March 11, and set up a community forum to explain the completion of the project.

“We are going out to the creek to see the work they did. Then they will train us how to maintain, how to take invasive species away, and how to keep natives flourishing,” said Munno.

Munno added that the DEC analysts also will teach the group how to take water and soil samples for research purposes.

“We are hoping to take over in the next few months, meaning continue the work in terms of keeping the area clean and working with their analysts,” she said, adding that they plan to use the creek as a classroom.

Mary Kroll, a science research teacher at the high school, added that an in-the-field initiative is beneficial to environmental education and is an amazing opportunity for students to experience first-hand research.

“It is the teacher’s dream to be out there doing research, and the kids are doing research to ensure that the area remains as pristine as it has been created by the DEC,” Kroll said.

A fastener factory that once operated on Union Boulevard is the culprit for the DEC’s initial purpose of intervention since traces of harmful chemicals, including cadmium, were present in the tributary’s surrounding soil as well as the creek itself, which ultimately empties into the Great South Bay. A project that also involves invasive species removal as well as the rejuvenation of natural plant habitat, the DEC has marked completion north of Union Boulevard. The region of the creek just behind the school northward to Union Boulevard encompasses the area of focus for WIS CREEK and DEC analysts.

While the DEC had a large white tent set up just at the edge of school grounds, in November of 2019, conversations between the department and the school district began in regard to how the district could be in on the action and benefit its students educationally. WIS CREEK entered its infancy.

“I am excited that the students are going to be involved in something that is right in their backyard, hoping to find solutions to real problems,” added the program’s director Debbie Langone, continuing on to express recognition of WIS CREEK’s focus on education in environmental conservation.

Munno pointed out that the most important necessity for the group to proceed involves the acquisition of various supplies. Notably, the school’s STEM classes will be designing and constructing in-stream garbage collectors. Munno and Kroll have solicited business owners for fundraising and sponsorship.

“We intend to create fluorescent vests [for safety reasons] for the students and staff to wear while cleaning and collecting data. It would be fantastic to have sponsor names printed on the back of the vests to show support and get some publicity for your business. We also need supplies such as garbage bags, gloves and goggles, and tools, such as shovels, trash grabbers and picker tools,” reads a letter addressed to local business owners disseminated on Feb. 7.

Donations are to be made out to the high school’s environmental club, Students Acting For the Environment. In addition to SAFE, WIS CREEK has accrued several community partners, including the West Islip Chamber of Commerce, Keep Islip Clean, West Islip Beautification Society, and West Islip Residents for Environmental Safety.

Additionally, the group has considered working with the scouts. The movement is also sparking interest in various spheres within the school district, including other teachers, STEM classes, and other aspects of research education.

“We cannot underestimate the importance of students being concerned, connected and contributing members of our communities, so the opportunity for students to engage in this type of community service, while learning about our local environment, is invaluable,” said the district’s superintendent Bernadette Burns. “I am proud of their efforts on behalf of our beautiful hamlet.”n


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