Students are right in the middle of what might be the discovery of resistance to the emerald ash borer at this summer's ecology camp.

Students are right in the middle of what might be the discovery of resistance to the emerald ash borer at this summer's ecology camp.

The summer ecology camp was open to Delaware City School District students who completed seventh or eighth grade and wanted hands-on experience with forest and wetland ecology.

This is the second year for this program. This year, 21 students enrolled in two four-week sessions in June and July.

Last year's program received an award from the Statewide Expanded Learning Summit in February for outstanding use of project-based learning and STEM programming.

Because of the award, an anonymous donor gave $8,000 toward the continuation of the program. The money was used to pay for each session's students to attend an overnight camp near Butler and explore the ecology of the area's foothills, bedrock and soil.

Paul Olen, program coordinator and School-Age Child Care teacher, said the program has grown this year. He said he believes it will continue to grow as more partners are brought in.

The students spend one-third of their time in the classroom learning about ecology with a botany emphasis, and the other two-thirds of the time doing field work.

One of the program's partners is the U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station, and one of the scientists in particular, Kathleen Knight, has been working with students.

Recently, they have discovered that the trees in the Dempsey Middle School wetlands, where the students are conducting their field work, have a greater survival rate from the emerald ash borer than those on 55 other sites they have examined.

"We are involved in what may be the key to resistance to the emerald ash borer, and our students are right in the middle of this," Olen said. "We are collaborating with local scientists to try and figure out why our trees have a greater survival rate.

"This is real science in the real world, and our students are having a blast being a part of it."

Olen said students haven't griped despite the constant rain and ferocious bugs.

"They've been working in mud, heat and mosquito-infested area and they haven't complained at all," he said. "We did some rigorous hiking in rough terrain while getting drenched with water. This was rough to me and I've been to Africa and Central America hiking, and they were able to handle it."

Olen said the camp is exciting to him because part of its goal is to develop workplace-readiness skills, and part of that includes teamwork and flexibility.

Students are encouraged to pack their own lunches the night before, set out their clothes, show up on time and be ready to work. They are working with real scientific equipment and are taught safety skills, Olen said.

Sometimes, students are out in the field and need to think on their feet if they are missing a tool or something they need to get the job done, he said.

"We are trying to teach them that they may not have everything they need or want to get a job done, but they still have to do it," he said.