Quail Run students get a chance to experience difficulty in cleaning oil from water, animals

Quail Run first-grader Olivia Ryan, center, pulls a soiled paper towel from a mixture of water, vegetable oil and cocoa mix as her classmates Olivia Ferguson, left, and Patricia Thomas watch Thursday in Mary Pendry’s class.

As work continues on cleanup from the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, some Quail Run School first-graders learned just how difficult a task that officials from BP and federal and state governments have in front of them.

“The oil, when it gets to the surface, it gets bigger,” said Tyler Zeller, a student in Mary Pendry’s class.

Pendry showed her class a presentation Thursday morning about what was happening in the gulf. And they got some hands-on experience trying to clean up oil from a bowl of water and off bird feathers.

The oil was cocoa powder mixed with vegetable oil, all donated by parents.

Thursday’s lesson went hand-in-hand with the ocean unit for the class.

Students watched as Rene Morris, a paraeducator, dropped the brown oil into a bowl of water. It collected in beads on the surface, and students tried to soak it out with paper towels.

“It’s kind of oily and watery at the same time, and it’s really hard to get all of the oil cleaned up in there,” Zach Bloch said.

Students also dipped single bird feathers into the oil and worked to clean them with dish soap.

“We talked about trying to clean a whole bird that’s covered in oil, and the bird is fighting you and scared and how challenging that is,” Pendry said.

She got the idea for the activities from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and she taught Centennial School third-graders a similar lesson when she was a student-teacher in 1989, after the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

“The accident in the gulf just inspires that we do a little bit more focus on our ocean unit, what the oil is doing and what its impact is,” Pendry said. “I think it’s something the kids are going to be learning about their whole lives.”

Even though Lawrence is not near the gulf or an ocean, class members mentioned trying to take care of rivers and lakes in the area.

“I felt closer to it because we were doing experiments about it,” Katherine Fischer said. “It was more important to me.”