The Importance of Being Insistent

The outdoor lights are blazing away trying to keep up with the bright sun shining outside of North Avenue–the Baltimore City Public Schools district office. It’s an interesting welcome to a meeting on sustainability policy.

 
But inside the board room, something is different. Purpose and determination.  As Cheryl Casciani, a school board member pages through the draft of the sustainability policy, she is pointing out parts of the policy that staff need to revise.

 
“Encourage isn’t strong enough,” We need to change it to Insist.”

 
Peering over her glasses at school officials, Casciani moves quickly through the document to ask for stronger policies to protect children. Her points are quick, thoughtful and insistent.

 

“I’d like all toxics out of our schools… stop bus idling in front of schools…it’s a health issue.”
For a school district that still hasn’t implemented green cleaning as required by the state, this insistence toward progress is necessary and overdue. Plagued with poorly maintained schools and a lack of resources, change will only come when it is demanded and verified.
But how can we verify that changes in policy to improve the health and learning of students will be implemented in our schools?

 
Let the students do it.

 
Let our students use their school as a science laboratory, gathering and analyzing data on factors that affect their health and learning. Using common professional tools and protocols, our student can monitor, analyze and report on the environmental factors that affect their health and learning.

 
Students can use Tools for Schools by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to proactively find and report issues that could trigger asthma attacks if left uncorrected. Using the Operations Report Card by the Collaboration for High Performance Schools (CHPS), students can monitor classroom ventilation, temperatures, humidity, and acoustics. Adding their school to the data base of the Energy Star Portfolio manager enables them to compare their energy use to similar schools and to calculate cost savings of energy renovations or improved operations.

 

 

As a hands-on science project investigating air quality, health, energy, engineering and technology, it aligns perfectly with Next Generation Science Standards, Common Core, Maryland Environmental Literacy requirements and STEM. This project studies the school as a system, integrating knowledge from the health professionals, facilities managers, custodians and teachers to improve the health and learning conditions at the school.
The information that students provide to the district could avoid or remedy health hazards, reduce repair costs and identify potential cost savings. In a pilot project at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, students and faculty noticed excessive water charges over a several year period. The city water department has now credited over $447,000 back to the school district. Not bad for a one week project.
This project empowers students to use science and innovation to improve their school environment, their learning, and their lives. We owe them this chance. Let’s insist upon it.

For all of our children, thanks, Cheryl.

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Learning about the Real Stuff

In a room filled with scientists, researchers and government officials, two seniors from City College High School, Nil Walker and Cameron Potts are answering questions about their summer research project. They explain how they collected and counted mosquito larvae, tested the water quality and velocity in local steams and counted pollinators. Potts tells how they used timothy grass immersed in water to attract mosquitoes and how they detected leaking sewage in the Gwynns Falls. “First it smelled like outdoors, then it smelled like eggs, then it smelled like the real stuff, he says, wrinkling up his face at the thought of the “ real stuff” in the stream.

IMG_0026 by Shan Gordon.
Nil Walker, a senior at City College High School in Baltimore, talks about his environmental research and his college plans at the Baltimore Ecosystem Study annual meeting.
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Cameron Potts, a senior at City College High School in Baltimore discusses his summer research with the Young Environmental Scientist program, YES-BES.

Potts lights up as he talks about this research. “If I had found out about this earlier, I would have joined as a freshman.” “I want to learn this stuff to be able to help my community,” Potts said.
Professors and researchers are leaning in, asking where they want to go to college, handing out their cards.

Bob Shedlock, a retired researcher from USGS shook hands with the students. We don’t feel like there are enough people working in our field. We want to encourage them, he said.
While Baltimore simmered through a summer marked with conflict, these students spent five weeks doing real science to help understand and improve our environment and our community.
The program, YES BES, is a youth outreach program run by the Baltimore Ecosystem Study. This summer it paid 20 students to do environmental studies in the Baltimore area.
The program is searching for funding for the upcoming summer. If you would like to support this program or know someone or some organization who would, please contact Bess Caplin at 410-455-1863 caplanb@caryinstitute.org

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Alan Berkowitz photographs Nil Walker and Cameron Potts, seniors at City College High School in Baltimore, with their poster on the ecological research they did this summer in the Young Environmental Scientist program sponsored by the Baltimore Ecosystem Study. Berkowitz is BES Education Team Leader with the Institute of Ecosystem Studies.

The Annual meeting of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study continues today at the Cylburn Arboretum Vollmer Center at 4915 Greenspring Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21209 from 9am –noon.
A reception featuring art and design connected to ecological research in the Baltimore area is 5:30-8pm at 16 W North Avenue, Baltimore, 21201

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Thinking Big: How Code in the Schools is helping kids learn to problem solve, collaborate and program computers.

posted in: Blog, Healthy Schools, Home, Multimedia | 0

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Think kids don’t like to learn? You must not have come to the Game Jam at Code in the Schools last Saturday. Students 12 years and up worked in small teams from 8 am to 8 pm to learn programming and to solve problems as they created their own video games. Volunteers with gaming and programming backgrounds mentored each group as they developed their ideas into working video games.

Could this model of mentored learning help students learn in other fields like architecture, health, communications, construction, or government services?

Baltimore needs to think out of the school box learning model with more mentoring and learning opportunities with business, non-profit and government partners. Learning with mentors helps students understand how their learning can be applied in solving real problems and it can help connect them to their futures. What problem solving exercises could your business or agency host for students?
aIMG_0062 by Shan Gordon.
Sixth grade students demonstrate the video game they developed to the judges at Game Jam.

aIMG_9879 by Shan Gordon. Students work together to learn the programming necessary to make their games work.
They were able to reference other games and use online resources to create their own working game.

IMG_9993 by Shan Gordon. So what strategy would you use to escape hungry dinosaurs on an island?
Students had to come up with story plots, characters, game rules and the programming to make it all work as they created their games.
This is a blending of learning across subjects that few classroom experiences match.