Vassar Brings Fallkill to Morse 4th Grade


Jennifer Rubbo shows a crayfish to three elementary school students as they all gather around a table.
Jennifer Rubbo of Vassar's Environmental Cooperative holds a crayfish so students in Cheryl Mongroo's fourth grade class at Morse Elementary School can touch it.

From Poughkeepsie City School District—Superintendent’s Brief

While Friday’s storms drowned plans for Vassar Environmental Cooperative and Scenic Hudson’s Aquablitz event, it didn’t dampen Morse students’ enthusiasm to learn about what lived in the nearby Fallkill Creek inside Malcolm X Park.   

Fourth graders in Cheryl Mongroo’s class were the last class in the program, so the weather canceled their visit to the park. But the class was excited to see the crayfish and eels Jennifer Rubbo, director of the cooperative—and fellow Vassar team members Aimee Schwartz, Melissa Sebastian, and Nghi Thai—brought with them to the school.

“You’re going to do experiments like what scientists would do,” Thai told the class to start the session. “You’re going to use your observation skills to notice and wonder,” she said, then asked students about their senses. They raised their hands to give answers: “Eyes to see, nose to smell scents,” and so on.

The group provided each student with a workbook in English or Spanish to record their observations.

This is the first year the cooperative visited schools as part of the Aquablitz; previously it was done by Scenic Hudson, Rubbo said.

“The crayfish are a big hit,” she said.

After students had a chance to observe the crayfish, Rubbo and the other group members asked each of their tables to share some of what they saw.

“It goes backwards and forwards and has a lot of antennas and legs,” Xavier Williams said, adding, “It looks like a lobster.”

The second part of the experiment had students speculating which food item the crayfish would eat first: shrimp pellets or a piece of hot dog. Students were asked to smell each of the items before pieces were handed to several students at each table and they were to drop them in the water in the same location at the same time. Crayfish seem to prefer shrimp pellets to hot dogs, though it could be because that is what they are fed at the cooperative, Rubbo shared with students.

While Crayfish were placed at each table, the eels were displayed in one tank at the front of the class, with students invited to look inside.

Rubbo shared that eels are predators and will eat crayfish and other fish. She shared that the eels in the small tank would eventually become bigger before migrating back to the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic Ocean.

Rubbo said the goal of the program is to “increase awareness of what lives in   
the creek next to the school and have students recognize there are living things in the City of Poughkeepsie they may have never seen.”

October 4, 2023