Sanborn students get hands on

OSSINEKE – Sanborn School fifth-graders have been busy working in Bob Thomson’s classroom, and out of the classroom. Students have been working on a project in the Thunder Bay River Watershed Project inspecting invasive species.

“We started out using ROVs to view zebra mussels on shipwrecks,” Thomson said. “Then the class started looking at other invasive species, and while we were doing water samples in the river for Michigan State University, the students were catching a lot of rusty crayfish. One of them asked what native crayfish looked like, and from there they decided to do a project with the rusty crayfish.”

Students from Thomson’s class are enthusiastic about the project and are working to spread awareness to the general public.

“We worked together and came up with the ‘Rusty Raiders’ project,” Thomson said. “This is the second year students have been working on the project.”

Students are trying to decrease the population of the rusty crayfish by monitoring their occupancy in the river and Lake Huron.

“We want to get rid of them because they compete with native crayfish and eat baby smallmouth bass,” Lindsay Syma said. “We want people to start catching and releasing smallmouth bass so more of them survive, and we’re trying to get people to stop dumping the rusty crayfish after they use them as bait for other fish.”

The fifth-graders are making posters, have a website (, are working on filming an infomercial, and are trying to arrange radio commercials to create awareness.

“We try to catch the rusty crayfish, tag them, release them, and then try to find them again to see if they stay in the same place,” Jade Schultz said.

The Sanborn students aren’t the only school involved in the project to monitor the rusty crayfish. Four school districts and 25 teachers are involved in the watershed project doing all sorts of research and hands-on activities within the Thunder Bay River.

“The students are working on five active research projects right now,” Thomson said. “They also are raising lake trout to put in the reef.”

The rusty crayfish eat fish eggs, which has contributed to a drop in certain fish populations that spawn in the river and on the reef.

“We feed them and keep a journal of what we’re doing,” Robby Barbato said.

Students helped write a grant and contribute to an essay for the grant to purchase Chromebook laptops to work on their project.

“It’s a different way Mr. Thomson can see what we write and we can save it on a drive so we can look at it whenever we want to,” Syma said.

All the students commented on how much they love the class and the opportunity to do hands-on work with what they learn in their textbooks.

“We aren’t just doing worksheets,” Barbato said. “It’s really fun.”

Field trips are a big part of the class participation.

“We get to do things that other kids don’t get to do in school,” Kaylee Rondeau said.

The ROVs allow for research where the students couldn’t explore on their own. They have six ROVs they can use, with one of them having a 100 foot tether.

“They let us see the rusty crayfish in places we can’t visit on our own,” Syma said.

Students said people can identify the rusty crayfish by the rusty color on their back where they can be picked up. They urge people to be aware of this invasive species and to help keep the population down by not releasing them if used for bait, and by raising awareness in the community.

Nicole Grulke can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5687. Follow Nicole on Twitter @ng_alpenanews.