Once upon a time, a teenager who was seen fishing on a weekday morning was playing hooky.

But students from Hilliard Heritage, Memorial and Weaver middle schools who were fishing last week at Latham Park were doing so as part of an educational program led by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and organized by Urban Park Development.

"We want our students to get real-life experience about our ecosystems and the impact of pollution," said April VanKirk, an honors science teacher for seventh-grade students at Memorial.

About 100 honors science students from Memorial took part in activities Oct. 3 at Latham Park at Cosgray and Scioto Darby Creek roads.

About 85 students from Heritage visited Oct. 2, and about 75 from Weaver were at the park Oct. 1, said Rose Hetterscheidt, a secondary science instructional coach for Hilliard City Schools.

Hetterscheidt wrote two grants that made the program possible for the district's middle-school students.

This is the first year the educational program was made available to middle-school students.

A $5,000 "Step Outside" grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources provided fishing rods and reels to each student, and another $500 grant paid for the material needed to provide the program across three days, Hetterscheidt said.

The students rotated among four stations during their visits to the park where they received instruction, studied water quality by testing for phosphates and acidity levels, spent time fishing and learned how Canada geese, wood ducks and other animals are tagged by the ODNR to determine bag limits and season lengths for hunting waterfowl and wildlife.

The programs are intended to teach students the science of determining water quality and also how "to take care of the planet," VanKirk said.

The message hit home.

"I was really able to see how water that doesn't look polluted still has acid in it," said Sheridan Bolognone, 12, a seventh-grade student at Memorial.

"I know what acids and phosphates can do to our water, so I'm careful about not throwing things away where plastics and other things can get into streams and our water," Bolognone said.

Students also learned how and why the ODNR tags animals and sometimes relocates them for safety reasons.

Rob Batterson, an ODNR wildlife research technician, demonstrated firing a net gun, explaining that the tool is used to catch smaller animals that might need to be relocated or treated for an injury.

Batterson also showed bands used to tag the legs, necks or wings of animals, explaining they are used to track the location, migration or longevity of wildlife.

The information collected also is reported to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and used to establish bag limits and lengths of hunting seasons for specific animals; the seasons can be increased, decreased or is prohibited, based on wildlife populations.

Hala Zahreddine, a managing partner with Urban Park Development, organized the three days of activities for the students Oct. 1 to 3 as well as two days of activities Sept. 25 and 26 for about 60 students each day from Bradley, Darby and Davidson high schools.

This is the second year students from the high schools studied at Latham Park.

The high school students, with assistance from the ODNR, the Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District and the Ohio State University, participated in more in-depth studies, including using a seine, a net dragged in shallow water to catch fish; a Secchi Disk, which measures the turbidity, or clarity, of water; and studying macro invertebrates in the streams at Latham Park.