The data collected by the students goes to a number of places, including local biologists and the USDA Forest Service.
“Sometimes it’s hard to demonstrate statistical probability that there is a definite effect (of deer on town forests), but short of that, we can look at trends,” Forest Service botanist Thomas Rawinski said. “We can see the growth of plants inside and outside the enclosure and graphically follow them.”
Rawinski, who oversees data and studies being submitted from throughout New England, New York and Pennsylvania, said the data collected by Andover students has been telling.
“We can see how Andover’s vegetation is responding relative to other sites where the same plants are being studied,” he said. “Many of the studies are in places where hunting was reintroduced. The question is, are we seeing a positive effect?”
The students were excited about their findings, too.
“When they’re talking about plants, in (the classroom), we don’t have plants to interact with,” Carter Brezinski, 12, said as the school year was winding down. “It’s fun to interact.”
Shayan Koul, also 12, said the work was fun “because you actually get to experience the learning. Instead of listening to a teacher talking and talking, you can actually understand and connect more.”
The students said standing among the trees also helped them to see the big picture.
“We want to keep the ecosystem in balance. We don’t want too many deer, or else they’ll eat the trees — and we don’t want less trees in the forest,” 12-year-old Abhay Sharma said. “We also don’t want less deer because that won’t be good for the food chain.”
Anthony said the project allowed her students to develop a deeper understanding of the ecosystem. They “take it more seriously. They feel a part of something,” she said, adding that they take pride in knowing that “they’re really good enough scientists to do an actual study.”
“I think they’re shocked that people would want and value the data from a sixth-grader,” she said.