STEM part­ner­ships ben­e­fit WRUS stu­dents

Record Observer - - School -

CEN­TRE­VILLE — A small pri­vate school on Mary­land’s Eastern Shore thinks that “late bloomers” and stu­dents with learn­ing dif­fer­ences can make im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tions in STEM ca­reers — and it’s prepar­ing them to do that with the help of an im­pres­sive list of part­ners that in­cludes nearby Wash­ing­ton Col­lege and sev­eral lo­cal en­vi­ron­men­tal groups, as well as the use of NASA tech­nol­ogy.

“We are firm in our be­lief that, like sci­en­tists and en­trepreneurs such as Ein­stein and Richard Bran­son, who were/are dyslexic, late bloomers or who learn dif­fer­ently, our stu­dents are nat­u­ral sci­en­tists and orig­i­nal thinkers. They are nat­u­ral fit for the many new op­por­tu­ni­ties un­fold­ing in STEM,” said Chrissy Aull, head of school at Wye River Up­per School whose mis­sion is to ed­u­cate stu­dents who learn dif­fer­ently or need a more per­son­al­ized ap­proach to learn­ing. “STEM ac­tiv­i­ties nat­u­rally lend them­selves to the way we teach, which is very hands-on and ex­pe­ri­en­tial.”

The part­ner­ships are largely the work of WRUS science teacher and STEM co­or­di­na­tor Dim­i­tra Neon­akis, who has turned the nearby Cor­sica River, the air above it and the land around it, into a class­room for her stu­dents.

In ad­di­tion to work­ing with Wash­ing­ton Col­lege’s Center for En­vi­ron­ment and So­ci­ety (CES), Neon­akis has taken ad­van­tage of the school’s rel­a­tive prox­im­ity to Wash­ing­ton, D.C.—only 60 miles away, across the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay—to par­tic­i­pate in pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment and cit­i­zen science with fed­eral agen­cies like the Na­tional Oceano­graphic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion and the Smith­so­nian in­sti­tu­tion. Closer to home, she is work­ing with the Ch­ester River As­so­ci­a­tion, the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay En­vi­ron­men­tal Center and the Cor­sica River Conser vancy.

The idea of tak­ing ad­van­tage of lo­cal sci­en­tific and en­vi­ron­men­tal groups be­gan in 2014 with a grant from the Wil­liam and Pa­tri­cia Fessler Foun­da­tion, man­aged by Mary Ellen and Bruce Val­liant of Ray­mond James, and a buoy named BOB, or Ba­sic Ob­vser­va­tion Buoy. WRUS spon­sored a BOB,, built by the Center for En­vi­ron­ment and So­ci­ety, to be placed in the Cor­sica River to col­lect and dig­i­tally re­turn wa­ter qual­ity data to a Mid-At­lantic Coastal Ocean Ob­serv­ing Sys­tem, which the stu­dents mon­i­tor and study.

BOB has been up and run­ning since April 2016, and stu­dents in Neon­akis’ en­vi­ron­men­tal science class rou­tinely check on the live feed to gauge the ever-chang­ing qual­ity of the es­tu­ary’s wa­ter.

“The part­ner­ship with Wash­ing­ton Col­lege to launch the buoy was very ex­cit­ing. We can mon­i­tor the wa­ter qual­ity through an app called Smart­buoy,” WRUS Ju­nior Rachel Pear­son said. “I am very grate­ful to be able to be a part of some­thing that will be able to help the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay in the fu­ture.”

CES Pro­gram Man­ager Jemima Clark re­cently vis­ited the en­vi­ron­men­tal science class and led stu­dents through the process of an­a­lyz­ing wa­ter for pol­lu­tants. A find­ing of both tur­bid­ity, sus­pended sed­i­ment, and ni­trates, oth­er­wise known as fer­til­izer, led the class to a dis­cus­sion of the sources of the un­de­sir­able el­e­ments and a brain­storm­ing ses­sion to come up with ideas about pos­si­ble ways to re­move them from the wa­ter.

WRUS stu­dents also com­plete wa­ter mon­i­tor­ing from nearby Mill­stream Park by col­lect­ing wa­ter sam­ples which they take back to school and chem­i­cally an­a­lyze. The wa­ter data they col­lect is sub­mit­ted to the Cor­sica River Conser vancy and the Ch­ester River As­so­ci­a­tion. CRA’s Tim Trum­bauer makes rou­tine guest teach­ing ap­pear­ances at WRUS to talk about the mean­ing of their re­sults.

This school year, at­mo­spheric data is be­ing added to the cur­ricu­lum thanks to CESE and a project us­ing NASA tech­nol­ogy known as AeroKat — an in­stru­ment de­signed to launch into the at­mos­phere and col­lect data on car­bon diox­ide and mois­ture lev­els as well as in­frared and vis­i­ble light im­ages. The in­stru­ment will send back aerial views of the river’s land bound­aries, al­low­ing stu­dents to ob­serve sed­i­ment run-off and at­tributes that are crit­i­cal in a healthy water­shed.

Neon­akis de­signed cur­ricu­lum to ac­com­pany the AeroKat tech­nol­ogy for the Ch­ester River Water­shed Ob­ser va­tor y. WRUS stu­dents will pi­lot this cur­ricu­lum be­fore it is shared with teach­ers in Kent and Queen Anne’s coun­ties.

Neon­akis and WRUS bi­ol­ogy and math teacher Sa­man­tha Reed also lead stu­dents on fre­quent vis­its to the Smith­so­nian In­sti­tu­tion in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., where stu­dents com­plete lab work with Smith­so­nian ed­u­ca­tors. Some stu­dents as­sisted with some mi­cropa­le­on­tol­ogy re­search and were treated to a be­hind the scenes tour of the col­lec­tions not on pub­lic dis­play. At the Smith­so­nian, stu­dents get a chance to study the struc­ture and func­tion of the ver­te­brate skele­ton, min­er­al­ogy and geo­chem­istry.

Aull cred­its Neon­akis’ pas­sion for science and her ea­ger­ness to share STEM with her stu­dents, as well as the school’s for­tu­nate lo­ca­tion, for the in­no­va­tive science cur­ricu­lum.

Wye River Up­per School is a col­lege prepara­tory high school for stu­dents with ADHD, dys­lexia and other learn­ing dif­fer­ences.

CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO

Wye River Up­per School fresh­man Ma­cyn Poag, center, of Bowie, han­dles Es­tu­ary Mon­i­tor­ing so­lu­tion while her peers Bradley Scott, left, of Bal­ti­more and Shaina Moore, right, of Stevensville, ob­serve the find­ings.

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