Students become the teachers at EarthFest 2016

Students from Upper Dublin High School share science exhibits at EarthFest

A dedicated group of scientists is hard at work seeking viable solutions to water contamination removal and oil spill containment and remediation — vital environmental issues that impact everything from potable drinking water to animal habitats to the fishing industry.

What makes this particular group of scientists stand out is that they happen to be 10th and 11th grade chemistry students at Central High School in Philadelphia.

“Our students have been working in small groups conducting on-going chemical/water quality research to gain a better understanding of pollutants in our drinking water as well as the contaminants that affect our environment and ecosystems,” said Central High School chemistry teacher Van Truong. “The students have prepared informational pamphlets related to various water contaminants. Some students will also develop poster boards related to water pollution, and build water filtration method and oil cleanup method models.”

The students’ research efforts will be on full display at EarthFest 2016 on Friday, April 22 at Temple University Ambler. Central High School will fill 10 exhibit spaces with numerous exhibits related to their study topic “Water Pollution: An Introduction to Causes, Effects and Solutions.” And they will not be alone. A full 32 student exhibits from a variety of schools throughout the region will form the backbone of EarthFest this year.

“EarthFest is a great opportunity for our students to share their learning experience and engage in a ‘student led’ event. Students will have the opportunity to promote awareness on the health effects of water contamination as well as methods to reduce water pollution,” Truong said. “Earth Day is a wonderful opportunity for students to explore various science topics as it relates to preserving, understanding and appreciating our Earth. This opportunity affords the students a venue to share and discuss their research findings coupled with appropriate demonstrations; in return, students will enhance their scientific and social communication skills.”

Since Temple’s first EarthFest in 2003, schools have been given the opportunity to share their own exhibits, exploring concepts as diverse as watershed clean-up and tree planting to the study of global warming and recycling. This year will mark the highest number of school exhibitors in event history.

“We are extremely excited to have this many school exhibits this year. There are so many students doing incredible things at a grassroots level that, each year, we want to take the opportunity to recognize their achievements,” said EarthFest 2016 Coordinator Susan Spinella Sacks. “Our primary goal with EarthFest is education. While we are able to bring a diverse group of students, educators and exhibitors together each year to celebrate a common cause, students at schools throughout the region are teaching their peers — and in many cases their parents — how they can ensure sustainable communities for today and tomorrow.”

At Upper Dublin High School, EarthFest has become part of the 10th grade Environmental Science curriculum. Students have the opportunity to present an exhibit at EarthFest as an independent or group project, according to environmental science teacher Lisa Fantini. Upper Dublin students will present eight exhibits on topic ranging from renewable and nonrenewable energy to recycling to building a hydroelectric generator.

“It has been a great experience for the Upper Dublin students to understand what preparation and education is needed for a public event like EarthFest. Our students are required to independently work through the process from beginning brainstorming of a topic and presentation type, to researching, to obtaining supplies, to preparing those models, take-homes and visuals for the kids, to practicing, to the endpoint of running the day’s event efficiently,” Fantini said. “In May, they will do reflections and have an informal discussion with classmates. My hope is that the visitors our students talk to want to learn more about the topics they see, which will hopefully get them more involved in local projects to become sustainable. “

Another returning participant, W.B. Saul High School High School of Agricultural Sciences in Philadelphia, is also pulling out all the stops for EarthFest 2016. Students will lead visitors in 10 interactive environmental, scientific and sustainable projects including topics such a beekeeping and flower pollination, using coffee filters to germinate plants, testing pH levels in water samples and how to properly plant a seed.

“Temple is able to find and provide meaningful engagement for high school students that supports a Natural Resource Management Career and Technical Education curriculum. The exhibits, and presentation of the exhibits, are a piece of their senior project grade,” said W.B. Saul teacher Jessica McAtamney. “For our students, I think they will have positive, meaningful interactions with younger students who potentially will be environmentalists like themselves! Our high school students are able to act as mentors and teachers.”

Two other returning favorites will be the Methacton High School Electric Car Club and the Wordsworth Interact Club from Wordsworth Fort Washington.

Methacton students will have their electric car — The Lorax — on hand in addition to a second mobile education vehicle, talk about how they work, and how they are charged by renewable energy. At EarthFest, the Wordsworth Interact Club will lead young visitors in planting seeds in recycled plastic containers. Club members will help visitors to assemble mini terrariums — “Plastic Planet Savers” — and plant seeds in them to take home.

And high school students aren’t the only ones that will be presenting exhibits at EarthFest. East Norriton Middle School students are building an environmentally friendly city showcasing multiple ways that residents can take action to keep our environment healthy and clean. Fellow students from the Norristown School District at Eisenhower Science and Technology Leadership Academy and Stewart Middle School will also be exhibiting a city of the future that factors in our changing environment and upcoming sustainability needs.

Students from the Radnor Middle School Watershed Program will be presenting a “Sustainable Food Expo,” focusing on food topics such as slow food, pollinator gardens, GMOs, organic local compatible plantings, interactive displays and more.

“Our seventh grade students really enjoy the opportunity to share their projects with other students and learn about what other classes are studying, as well as meet with the experts and college students about different environmental topics,” said Banny Ackerman, who with Jon Savitch guides the Radnor Middle School Watershed Program. “Students always come away with rich content information, creative ways to demonstrate a concept or activity and just the general appreciation of a celebratory environment that honors all the students’ efforts.”

Being able to present at EarthFest “gives students a unique public speaking experience and confidence as well as an appreciation for the collaborative dialogue with other like-minded environmentally ‘savvy’ students who have plenty to share,” said Ackerman.

“The event is an awesome opportunity to bring students together to share ideas and learn from each other,” she said. “It is such a rich, authentic experience!”