Clinton Elementary students bring science alive

  • Clinton Elementary student Ellie Yarborough - Crystal Huskey

  • Clinton Elementary Pond Experiment - Crystal Huskey

  • Kimberly O’Dell - Crystal Huskey

Sixth-grade students at Clinton Elementary may have solved a decades-long problem.

The City of Clinton’s community pond, Town Springs, has been around for as long as the city has been, well, a city. According to City Manager Roger Houck, it used to literally be the town’s watering hole. And since at least the 1970s, it’s had an algae problem.

“When I came to work here 30 years ago, it was a problem,” Houck said.

The city has had the University of Tennessee and the TWRA come out to study the problem and enact solutions, but so far, no luck.

Clinton Elementary teacher Kimberly O’Dell decided to involve her students in the problem and see if they could come up with a solution. She was encouraged to do so by city councilmember Rob Herrell. Thanks to a grant from ORAU, students collected water samples and investigated possible solutions.

“You can only learn so much from a book,” said O’Dell, “so the only way you get some authentic science is to get your hands dirty and start working through the problems.”

The pond, located behind the Clinton Community Center, has a concrete bottom and is fed by two wet-weather springs, according to project materials created by the students. Two outlets lead to the Clinch River, which supplies drinking water to the city. Students concluded that the water had an excessive amount of nitrogen and a low level of phosphorus, which could be mitigated by introducing a plant — Ogon Sweet Flag, which was donated by Willow Ridge Garden Center.

Based on a model pond that is in O’Dell’s classroom, the plant acts as a biological filter and decreases the nitrogen significantly. Students recommended manually cleaning out the pond and placing plants in the bog area to create biological filters.

Houck said they’re going to try it. They should know by September if it works.

“You guys blew me away,” said ORAU representative Jennifer Tyrell following the students’ presentation. “Your presentation skills were fantastic. And what you’ve done here is authentic research. You’re in the sixth-grade, and you did authentic real-world research. This is exactly what we do at ORNL.”