Reclaiming at The U School

Over the past two weeks, Anna and I have been working on an air monitoring unit together. I have begun going back in person to class on Monday mornings to meet with Anna and work with the students. It has been really nice to catch up and talk to the students again. I was able to present a lesson on different air pollutants, what safe levels of them are, and how they affect our health. It was nice getting to apply my research from the summer and explain it to students. Many of them seemed interested in what I had to say and had questions on how to mitigate indoor air pollution. I also was able to bring in a particulate matter monitor from my lab to the school. I tracked a week’s worth of PM data in a classroom and uploaded the data to a google sheet. I analyzed the patterns for Anna and students will be able to look at the data and brainstorm why PM spikes during certain times of the day. 

We started this unit as a background building step to our process theme of ‘reclaiming our environment’. Anna and I took the input from students and concluded on this as a central theme. A challenge we encountered was having the kids pick one main project. Many students are very passionate about one specific topic and others don’t have much interest in anything, so when it came to picking a topic that everyone thought was the most important there was little consensus. To solve this, we are keeping the theme general and covering a wide range of topics so that students can dig deeper in topics that interest them, and develop new passions for other topics. Teachers from our team had asked students in the beginning of the year topics that concern them; their ideas included litter, the poor aesthetic and condition of the school, gun violence, poor air quality, and more. While all of these topics are different, they can all be connected. By ‘reclaiming’ our space, students can choose what area of their community they feel can be improved or that has been lost to pollution or violence. Most students didn’t seem interested on the first day of the air pollution unit, but now I have kids coming up to me asking about different pollutants and for help with their research projects. While this wasn’t traditionally student-led, this project was very much student influenced, which I think is a good compromise. I would consider us to be in the building background and academic research phases of the process. Students are drawn to topics that work towards beautifying the school and making it a healthy and beautiful place to be in.

I am looking forward to connecting students to community resources like the Clean Air Council and school district officials after finding unhealthy levels of pollution in the school. I think it would be good for students to see that research and outreach can lead to success.

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