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Middle School Science Elective Takes Students Behind the Scenes of Construction

In the time since Middle Schoolers last set foot on campus prior to spring break in mid-March, much progress has been made on the Arts and Languages Center — the first phase of the Middle School Campus Plan. And perhaps no one is watching more raptly from afar than the five students who make up the Science In Action class.

Science In Action (SIA) is a new elective course taught by longtime science teacher Barb Kanoy in which students find out how changes to the campus will affect the ecology of the greater community in the short and long term. In addition to learning about the procedures and planning that are in place to protect against negative impacts, students have had opportunities to make suggestions to further mitigate negative impacts. 

“I think that SIA is a really great opportunity for kids who are really interested in science, or who have an interest in the environment or the construction side of things,” eighth-grader Claire Orvis said. “You get a variety of perspectives from people who are on the business side, and the construction side and the environmental side.”

Students have been able to stay updated on the progress of construction thanks to drone footage filmed regularly by Dave Chandler, who has helped coach the robotics team, oversaw Open Invention Studio hours at the Upper School and is now helping the Office of Information Technology. Using these aerial shots, the Science In Action students — the “SIA team,” as Kanoy calls them — shared the project’s progress with classmates at a community meeting. In reviewing the footage, they also spotted a drainage issue, which they flagged for the project manager.

While students have been away from campus this spring, they have continued to be able to keep tabs on the progress, as Chandler has continued to collect footage. The SIA team used it to create a video showing the progress of construction from May 30, 2019, to March 28, 2020.

Last school year, Kanoy was already thinking about how students might learn from the construction site when John McGowan, now an eighth-grader, mentioned to her that he was interested in measuring the impact of the project on trees at the Middle School campus.

“He decided that he wanted to see how many trees would be taken down and what they were going to take down. He wanted to document how things were at that moment before the summer came and everything changed,” Kanoy recalled. “So he planted a seed in my head — and I was already sort of thinking about it — that this is something the kids would really, really enjoy.”

The five students enrolled in the class — Orvis, McGowan, and seventh-graders Aayaz Husain, Luis Pastor-Valverde and Emily Simmons — have spent the school year learning about the construction project’s impact on the greater ecological community from a range of perspectives. Students talked with Charlie Wilson ’89, president of C.T. Wilson Construction, about plans for the project; with officials at City Hall about stormwater regulations; with folks at Duke Gardens about how they deal with stormwater; and with engineers about landscaping, as it relates to stormwater.

“And the kids in their conversations, especially with City Hall and the stormwater engineers from McAdams Engineering, brought to light some issues that the kids wanted to focus on, those issues being the stormwater management and how much better we could make that stormwater management with a couple of changes to the plan,” Kanoy said. “... The kids were learning a lot about the balance of things — that if you put all of your money over here, this is what happens over there.”

The SIA team members are putting together a presentation with their suggestions that was to be shared with the DA Board of Trustees, Duke Gardens and Charlotte Christian Academy. Charlotte Christian wanted to include the SIA team’s presentation in their Earth Day assembly. While those in-person presentations have been canceled due to COVID-19, SIA team members are hoping to share what they’ve learned virtually. Their suggestions center around two ideas: to build a rain garden and to create a wetland.

Simmons noted that the rain garden on the Middle School campus was a project spearheaded by Kanoy and students years ago to help prevent flooding. 

“There are a lot of pluses to rain gardens, like cleaning the water, which is our main one,” Simmons explained. “Also, they look nice and provide homes for animals in our ecosystem that maybe wouldn’t have a home now that we’ve taken down the trees.”

Husain and Orvis explained that they are interested in removing the dry pond and replacing it with a wetland.

“The current dry pond we have right now is actually really only there to hold water, it’s not going to really filter the water, which is extremely important for downstream — we don’t want the trash from road waste and such to go downstream,” Orvis said. “It will help a little bit but it won’t help as much as a wetland would. A wetland has plants in it, so it helps filter road waste and polluted water. It will help get rid of all of that, which creates a healthier environment.”