Students 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 were 10th and 11th grade chemistry students at Central High School in Philadelphia.

“Our students were working in small groups conducting 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 prepared informational pamphlets related to various water contaminants. Some students also developed poster boards related to water pollution, and build water filtration method and oil cleanup method models.”

Students’ research efforts have been a part of the educational opportunities available to EarthFest visitors since its inception.

“EarthFest is a great opportunity for our students to share their learning experience and engage in a ‘student led’ event. Students 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 some schools are sharing important information about the environment and citizen science virtually.

“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 Co-Coordinator Susan Spinella Sacks. “Our primary goal with EarthFest is education. While we have been able to bring a diverse group of students, educators and exhibitors together to celebrate a common cause, students at schools throughout the region teach 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 often been part of the 10th grade Environmental Science curriculum. Students have had the opportunity to present an exhibit at EarthFest as an independent or group project, according to environmental science teacher Lisa Fantini. Topics have ranged from renewable and nonrenewable energy to recycling to building a hydroelectric generator -and there have been dozens of them over the years.

“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. “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.”

The Methacton High School Electric Car Club's electric car — The Lorax — has been a staple of EarthFest for years and while EarthFest 2021 is virtual, this year is no different.

High school students aren’t the only ones that present exhibits at EarthFest. East Norriton Middle School students built 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 have exhibited a city of the future that factors in our changing environment and upcoming sustainability needs.

In prev ious years, students from the Radnor Middle School Watershed Program have presented 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 teacher Banny Ackerman. “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!”