One of 16 reptile boards finds its home for the year on University High School’s campus.

Wander through the southwest corner of University High School’s campus this fall, and you’ll likely come across a sheet or two of seemingly discarded plywood.

These sheets of plywood – 16 total, four each in four distinct transects of the area – are actually serving an important scientific purpose for the school: they are helping students identify the reptile species on campus. Students in Stacey Summitt-Mann’s Environmental & Spatial Sciences class laid the reptile boards last week in a lesson on using transects in population sampling. The class will visit the boards several times throughout the school year, flip them over, and document any reptile species they find underneath.

Using Data to Inform Campus Design

Reptile board sampling is just one of many documentation projects Summitt-Mann, a science instructor and the school’s new Director of Campus & Community, is working on this year as phase one of University High School’s Campus Master Plan gets underway.

Last week, University High School officially hired Williams Creek Consulting to create detailed designs for the environmental spaces of our campus, which the Board of Trustees have identified as phase one of our long-term plan. Williams Creek will offer two design options for the school community to respond to this fall, and then a final design will be solidified this spring, with budget and phasing options included.

According to Summitt-Mann, data on the campus’s existing biodiversity counts will inform Williams Creek’s designs. That’s why the reptile sampling her students are doing and the upcoming West Park BioBlitz she’s asking the community to help with are so crucial.

“Basically we’re trying to understand what living things – plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, anything – are in the area,” said Summitt-Mann. “As we design the outdoor spaces, knowing the animal species we want to build habitats for in part will help us determine what plant species we want.”

How a BioBlitz Works

University High School is partnering with West Park to put on the area’s first BioBlitz on Sept. 15.

The BioBlitz will capture this information. Here’s how it will work: on Saturday, Sept. 15, dozens of volunteers (sign up to help!) will work in shifts to document all the animals and plants they find in specific areas (transects) on University High School’s campus and in West Park. The 16-hour event is divided up into shifts that last between two and four hours, and volunteers can choose a specific focus. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., for example, volunteers can focus on insects or on reptiles.

Volunteers do not need any experience or expertise in identifying plant and animal species; the event organizers are using a mobile application called iNaturalist which will allow volunteers to simply upload photos of the plants and animals they find. As long as a volunteer has a working cellphone, long pants, and closed-toe shoes, they are equipped to help out. Food and t-shirts will be provided to volunteers, and volunteers of all ages are welcome.

Connecting the UHS Campus with West Park

University High School’s partnership with Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation is natural considering the proximity of West Park to the school’s campus.

“While we know that West Park and University High School are two distinct places, to the wildlife it’s all one continuous habitat,” said Summitt-Mann. “So we’re trying to view the area that way and think about how animals migrate across 116th Street.”

A True Community Project

University High School’s campus spans 80 acres, and 15 of those will become an environmental complex.

Summitt-Mann is excited about this opportunity to bring University High School community members onto campus to see the full expanse of the school’s land.

“This for us is really a community project,” said Summitt-Mann. “We want to document, and we want the data, but what we want most is for people to be involved and start to see the vision of our Campus Master Plan.”

Plans are in the works to make the BioBlitz with West Park a regular event, with one event in the fall and one in the spring (as the plant and animal species may vary depending on the season). Over time, Summitt-Mann hopes to see University High School become a home to even more plant and animal species, and she will use the data gathered to determine if that’s true.

“We’re wanting to see what’s there and get baseline data, but we also want to have our students and community continue to document our biodiversity over the next five, ten, and fifteen years,” said Summitt-Mann. “My hope is that the animal and plant species will increase, but we want to track if we are getting more species and what’s happening over time.”

Volunteer for the West Park BioBlitz

To volunteer for a shift at the West Park BioBlitz on Saturday, Sept. 15, please visit the online registration page or click the register button below. With questions, contact Stacey Summitt-Mann at ssummittmann@universityhighschool.org.