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Renewing our Vowels

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Renewing Our Vowels:  A study of life goals.

 

Truth can be a trickster, revealing itself in unexpected moments.

It snuck up on me at a Hope and Help Festival at Lafayette Park in Baltimore. 

Leaned up against the wall, was a line of boards with lines of sentences, each starting with  

“Before I Die I want to” followed by a line, waiting for a chalked in answer.

One of those answers made me smile, “Renew my marriage vowels.”IMG_9566f2 by .

 

 

Had someone misspelled “vows?” 

Was this a licensing requirement for a scrabble player? 

Or was this a deeper message about the purpose of our lives and relationships? 

Should we live focused on the I, our personal wants and goals, or centered on the U, helping others?

The answers were chalked in across the board, in a landslide victory for U.

Here is a sampling of the responses:

“Save as many lives as I can”

“See peace for all races!!!!”

“Cure all diseases”

“Heal Baltimore”

“Help the Poor”

“Buy a house for my mother”

“See my children be good people”

“Find Nemo”

“Save a life”

“Help people live a happy life and healthy life”

“Help people”

“World peace”

“Change the world”

“Create change in my community”

“Help more people love others”

“Health, library, recovery services, housing, etc. for Baltimore City.”

“Let people know they are loved.”

Those who view our society as based on acquiring material goods should note that no one wrote that they wanted a better car, more jewelry, or a bigger house for themselves.   

In fact, there only a few responses which even listed personal goals:

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“Skydive/deep sea diving”

“See Paris”

“Run a marathon”

“Be happy”

 

I’m saving a photo of this wish wall onto my desktop to remind me of the real news in our world.

That people are good and they are hoping to help others.

                                                                                            shan

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Growing STEM in Baltimore

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As educators and foundations consider how to expand STEM learning in Baltimore, I’d like to offer a few recommendations.

First, define STEM broadly.
When we see STEM as a way of understanding and solving problems of all kinds, it becomes more than a club for kids who like robotics or computer coding.

STEM can help us do everything: it can help us cook better cupcakes, build better skateboards, improve our health, and design better bus routes. When we see that STEM is a tool kit to help us improve our world, it becomes available to everyone and applicable everywhere. Sure, STEM can stay in the science and computer labs, but what if we also let students in on the fact that its also valuable on the athletic field, the board room, the Mayor’s office and the hospital?

Second, use STEM to solve real problems.
I love Frisbee throwing robots as much as anyone, but does the world need another one?

When will we start creating STEM projects designed to solve real problems our students and our community are experiencing?

When are students going to help improve the bus service for their schools, test the water in their nearest stream or find ways to improve their health and learning?

Here are some quick ways to add STEM learning opportunities in Baltimore:

Water quality testing
Michel Anderson, an educator with Blue Water Baltimore is starting to train teachers to test water at their schools and local streams.
Funding to help transport students to their local streams could help students understand the water quality at their local streams. Putting these tests together in an online data base could help students (and everyone else) understand water quality in the Baltimore area watershed.

Benchmark health and learning at schools
Students can benchmark their health (asthma, vision and absenteeism) and the health of the school environment.
Using Tools for Schools from the EPA, students can identify existing asthma triggers like mold, chemicals and pests.
They can test the temperature, humidity, lighting and noise levels in their classrooms with the Operations Report Card by the Collaborative for High Performing Schools (CHPS). Entering their school energy use into Energy Star Portfolio Manager, enables students to compare the energy use at their school to similar schools and to calculate the carbon footprint of their school.

Engage students in the design of their schools and neighborhoods
The 21st Century School Building project, the program to construct or renovate Baltimore City Public Schools, is a perfect for STEM learning.
Students should be designing CAD drawings of potential school designs, talking with architects and construction managers, calculating construction costs and evaluating bus and walking routes.
But so far, students and their teachers are barely consulted in the design and citizen involvement process.
Schools could integrate this learning into their curriculum and engaging the citizen involvement processes with after school programs where parents, teachers, citizens and students work through these important decisions.

Revive Saturday Science
Don Thomas, an astronaut, ran a very successful Saturday morning program at Towson University where students could see and experience science programs which ranged from space exploration to crime scene investigations; from wildlife studies in the Amazon to pyrotechnics. This program was free and would fill an auditorium with students and parents interested in learning. After the program, students could sign up for a short lab experience.

Reviving the program (preferably with Thomas) would give Baltimore area students a great way to experience science.
If a local university isn’t willing to sponsor this program, perhaps it could be run as a collaborative with UMBC, Johns Hopkins, Loyola, Morgan and Towson taking turn presenting programs. This could be a great recruiting opportunity for these institutions as they show off their professors to their prospective students.

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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.

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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

Good News in the Air, Maryland

posted in: Energy, Environment, News and Issues | 0
Deciding air quality in Maryland

Doris Toles, watches as decisions are made on the quality of her air. Toles has been hospitalized when poor air quality in Baltimore left her struggling to breathe. She was attending the Air Quality Control Advisory Council meeting at the Maryland Department of the Environment in Baltimore, MD. The council approved new regulations which will require coal burning power plants to use their existing pollution controls daily and meet new emission standards.

There is good news in the air for those who breathe in Maryland: The Air Quality Control Advisory Council approved new regulations which mandate that all coal burning power plants must use their existing pollution controls.

WHAT?!!!! We needed regulations to get the owners of coal burning power plants to use their existing pollution controls?

That’s right. Outside of what the Maryland Department of the Environment are calling the “Summer Study,” quite a few coal burning plants had been switching off their pollution controls until they started bumping into mandated emission limits. A report by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) found that if the Brandon Shores and Wagner power plants had used their pollution controls continuously in 2012, they could have prevented 2,035 tons of NOx (nitrous oxide) emissions.

Until the “Summer Study,” some plants had simply not used their SNRC controls for years; others were using them less than half the time.
These new requirements to use their existing pollution controls, combined with daily and monthly emission levels are good news for Marylander’s who enjoy breathing.

It is interesting to be in a room where people are deciding how clean (or dirty) our air will be.
To people who breathe, this can seem to be a simple question with an equally simple answer: CLEAN.
But inside the conference room at MDE, the discussion is complex and strategic.

Remember that bit about the coal burning power plants not using their pollution controls?
The same stuff is going on in other states like Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania –and their air comes here, sometimes making up a majority of the ozone (smog) we experience in the summer.
How do we get them to stop sending us polluted air if we keep polluting our own?

An executive from a power producing company warns of power blackouts if they have to close their polluting plants. Pointing out that the demand doesn’t go away just because we quit producing electricity; he suggests that plants in other states would simply step in to provide the power and pollution that we lost.

An executive from another power company supports the regulations, perhaps eager to inherit market share from other power companies who might have to close under these rules.

A member of the council worries that natural gas might actually cause more harm to the environment than the coal that these regulations are attempting to replace.
Another member wonders if the state will be sued by a power company to delay or nullify the regulations.

Underlying each of these complex conversations is our addiction to cheap, dirty energy.

Look across our skylines– the smokestacks from coal burning power plants look cigarettes that our cities are chain smoking day after day, hour after hour. But inside the room, the talk wasn’t focused on renewable energy or gains in energy efficiency. It’s about rising power demands and perhaps a transition to natural gas, another fossil fuel– a different brand of smoke.

Responding to questions about the dangers of NOx pollution, a power company executive talks about balance, cost and reliability: weighing of the benefit of the electricity against the harm of the emissions. But he doesn’t talk about the costs of air pollution which are borne by the public. Their deaths, asthma and hospitalizations are not found on the balance sheets of his plants.

A recent two part study by Harvard, Syracuse and Boston Universities estimated that lowering pollutants from power plants in a scenario similar to the proposed EPA plan would prevent 3,500 early deaths and a thousand hospitalizations every year in the United States by 2020. Their report found that Maryland would see some of the greatest health benefits of this plan.

How many early deaths, hospitalizations or heart attacks will these new NOx regulations prevent in Maryland?
How many more will the two year extension for closing or refitting power plants create?
These are hard numbers to come by, but stay tuned as we talk to health and energy experts over the next few months.
And say a prayer with me for Doris, the kind woman with COPD, that her life will stay in the saved column.

Interviews with Protestors of Energy Answers Incinerator

Interviews with Destiny Watford, graduate of Benjamin Frankin High School, Charles Graham, student at Benjamin Franklin High School and Mike Ewall, Director of Energy Justice Network at the protest march against the planned Energy Answers Incinerator on a site one mile from the High School. Students said that the plant would add pollution to their industrial neighborhood which is already one of the most polluted areas in the country.

Burning Issues – Curtis Bay, Maryland

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Testimony on whether the Public Service Commission should allow the largest incinerator in the nation to be built at Curtis Bay, Maryland. The plans call for trucking in 4,000 tons of garbage a day to the plant which would be located within a mile of two schools.