Photo by Andrea Bulfinch, for Ipswich Chronicle

From Saturday’s Ipswich (Massachusetts, USA) Chronicle:

Fifth-graders at the Paul F. Doyon Elementary School are gearing up for a big night.
Actually it will likely be a few nights this spring, not just one.

An orange sign posted outside the school near the road warns drivers to be cautious of slithering and hopping amphibians who will soon cross the road in that area in search of vernal pools in which to breed. The time during which they migrate is referred to as “big night,” because many migrate all at once. Woodfrogs are just one of several species that will be moving.

The critters will come out of their winter woodland hideouts in search of the pools and the fifth-graders are ready to study their travels.

Lisa Manzi, a fifth grade teacher, said woodland frogs and salamanders will seek the vernal pools when the conditions are just right: above 40 degrees and rainy. Students and parents will come out to study the six different vernal pools in town located at Mile Lane, Pineswamp, Old Wright and Linebrook Roads and Oakwood Knoll.

In the winter, frogs and salamanders are in hibernation or seek shelter underground. But like people, when the temperature turns warmer, it’s time to head out. Exactly when that will happen is unknown.

“We knew at 37 degrees things weren’t happening,” Manzi said.

The students are keeping a keen eye on the weather now.

“The kids are just kind of waiting,” she said.

Parents came in for a training night in March. When the amphibians start moving, parents and students will go out in groups of about 12 to record information on weather conditions and population.

“It’s awesome,” Manzi said of the project.

The information they collect will go onto spreadsheets for the students to study in the classroom. The kids will sort and filter the information to get a comprehensive view of what’s happening.

In the long run, Manzi said, the information is going to be saved on record and shared when development projects are proposed so it’s known what creatures make that area their home.

As for the kids, a rainy night among frogs and salamanders is more than just puddle hopping.

“It helps them learn what’s in their own community,” Manzi said.

Knowing that they are part of an ongoing research project, the students, about 75 of them, know that what they’re doing is important.

The project actually began about 10 years ago, but signs have been posted for the last three or four, Manzi said. By getting the town involved in putting up signs, the students are also learning how to work with others to get things accomplished. They worked with Department of Public Works Director Bob Gravino to get the signs installed. It also teaches them how to teach others, Manzi said.

“It helps them become stewards of their community,” she said.