Science students take holistic approach High school class opens wetlands tract to those in wheelchairs

June 02, 1996|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

While the rest of the photography class trekked out to the lush sanctuary of the wetlands behind South Carroll High School to capture nature on film, Charles Rachel had to stay behind.

The graduating senior's wheelchair couldn't manage the path and bridge that three years of science research students had labored to build to the wetlands. The area has become an outdoor classroom for science, photography and other classes.

"I kind of was hoping there was a way out there," said Rachel. "I just stayed and took pictures of things outside of the building here."

Now, there is a way. On Friday, he tried for the first time a new compacted gravel path and wooden footbridge that winds through the acres of woods, stream and skunk cabbage.

Three of his classmates, seniors Kate Barrow, Bobby Larrimore and Mike Shay, designed and built the wheelchair-accessible path and a safer bridge with bumper guards to keep a wheelchair from going over the edge.

"Without this trail, they'd never be able to get out here," said Shay, whose mother is a special-education teacher at the school. "A lot of the students [who use wheelchairs] know me. I wanted to do something they'd enjoy."

It was their project for science research, under the direction of teacher Robert Foor-Hogue. Larrimore designed and directed work on the bridge, and Barrow and Shay planned the path. More than 120 students in the five science research classes put in 400 hours of labor since the fall.

Shay, Larrimore and Barrow usually spent their lunch periods there, too.

"I'd eat a bag lunch in my car on the way up here," Shay said. The students spent two weeks knocking out tree roots. It took another several weeks to dig a trench and install drainage tiles.

If this sounds more like a carpentry or vocational project than science, Foor-Hogue is quick to say that science is all about identifying problems and designing solutions.

"True science is kind of stumbling forward," said Foor-Hogue, who has his students take a holistic approach to the discipline.

The students started out the way a real scientist would: They wrote grant proposals to the Chesapeake Bay Trust and procured $1,550 for lumber, gravel, drainage tile, nails, mulch and other supplies.

"It took me two or three months to write and edit the grant [proposal]," Shay said. "That's improved my English skills a lot. Writing it was easy. Editing it was very hard."

At this school, science can mean hauling 14 tons of gravel for the path, one wheelbarrow at a time.

It means coming back from a weekend to find the January post-blizzard flood has bowed the once-straight bridge the students built.

It means figuring out that picking up the bridge and turning it around can turn the curve into an advantage, resisting future floods.

And it means building a hydrodynamic table model of the stream in the classroom to test ways to divert water so it won't erode the banks that support the bridge. The model looks like a glass aquarium, with pebbles and sand and water flowing through a wall of plastic drinking straws glued together to mimic the flow of the real stream.

Accessibility for students in wheelchairs to the 300 acres of wetlands behind the school means accessibility to the same science instruction other students have. Over the last several years, the wetlands have become a critical part of nearly every science class.

As interest in the wetlands and science classes in general has grown at the school. One hundred thirty percent of the school's enrollment is taking a science class, which means that many students take two classes at a time.

Accessibility is important, Shay said. "If they're in any of those classes, they're going to be out here sometimes." For the science research class, a high-level course in which students create independent projects, the wetlands are the primary focus. In addition to each independent project, Foor-Hogue and his students have been working as a group to restore the land and water to a pristine state that will support brook trout and brown trout.

They raise the trout in the classroom, a huge space that was once the vocational-agricultural shop.

Writing grant proposals is not new to the class. To do their work, students over the years have won grants of nearly $20,000 for projects that include building fish tanks and other paths and bridges. They raise an average of $50 each by selling pizzas.

"Pizzas and grants pay for everything," Foor-Hogue said.

Pub Date: 6/02/96

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