Volunteer cleanup at Pioneer Pond brings back hope


Over forty students, staff, and community members from across the Ann Arbor district came together at the Pioneer Pond to volunteer for an outdoor workday on Nov. 9.

The school pond, which had been built in the 1960’s along with the construction of Seventh Street, once had complete rows of wooden benches that formed an amphitheater. Along with a trail, the area had been a beneficial educational tool for various classes at Pioneer High School. 

“Biology classes would be able to study specimens they found in the pond, French and German classes used to come down here and describe the pond in that language, art classes would come down and paint landscapes, and many others,” said John Russell, a former biology teacher of Pioneer. “We’d go out there in the winter on the ice, drill a hole, and teach the biology and physics classes how to sample the water temperature and oxygen. In the spring, we’d go out with kayaks that ecology club built, good times.” 

 Students in the past even created a device in their class that could obtain samples from the water. There were plenty of learning opportunities that the pond offered, and they weren’t limited to just classes of Pioneer. 

 “The Environmental Education Program used this pond for pond dippings, where third graders that were studying habitat came and dipped for macroinvertebrates, or bugs in the pond, and saw what was living in it,” said Coert Ambrosino, an Environmental Educations teacher at Abbott Elementary School. “It became almost like a tradition for us.”

Now, however, it lies forgotten, a small body of water obscured with dense foliage behind the tennis courts. 

“As time passed and the Environmental Education program developed more and more sites around the district, students started doing other projects that were more curriculum-connected,” said Russell. Sadly, a skimp of maintenance on the Pioneer pond followed. 

“The trail started to break down, and invasive buckthorn and phragmites sprouted and flourished,” said Dave Szczygiel, an Environmental Education Consultant.

Recently, the district started providing funds for the return of such projects again, focusing on the recovery of the pond through cleanups. Activities at the cleanup included clearing overgrowth around the amphitheater and pond access points, trail maintenance, and the removal of the invasive species. 

“It was hard work and I think we got a lot accomplished,” said sophomore Jenny Sun. Sun, like other students who were present at the site were offered extra credit for their science classes for participation in the pond cleanup. 

“We’re overjoyed to see so many students get involved and carry on the longtime tradition of environmental stewardship at Pioneer,” said Szczygiel. “I hope we can keep it up.”

Jennifer Wilkening, a Pioneer biology teacher agreed. “I think it’s important for students to have an opportunity to understand that their actions can change the world around them,” she said. “Students are able to realize that they can have their own campus cleaned up and have a part in doing the cleanup.”