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NHS begins wetlands preservation

COVINGTON -- After a restful Thanksgiving break, some students at Newton High School are gearing up for a long-term project that could help preserve a part of their school for years to come.

After a groundbreaking last month, the students are starting the NHS Green SWEEP Project, which eventually will help divert water runoff away from the school's baseball field and an open area near the agriculture department's livestock barn to create a wetland.

"When it rains, runoff from the baseball field flows into a large area between the field and the barn, making it difficult for students to get to the barn because the area becomes a muddy mess," said Kia James, a science teacher and project coordinator at NHS. "Eventually, this runoff results in the flow of animal waste into the river."

She said the project not only will help the school from a practical and environmental standpoint, it also will help the students focus on their education and responsibilities.

"Our project was designed to allow students to study ecological relationships and the flow of energy in a real-world setting," James said. "Through project-based learning and the use of advanced technology, students will develop the critical thinking, technological and analytical skills essential to today's workplace."

For now, science students are working with technology to plan for the physical aspects of the project. They are using 100 laptops and other accessories and programs that were provided to the school through the $275,000 Hewlett Packard Innovations in Education grant that was presented to the school to complete the project.

"The technology is amazing, both in amount and quality," said school Principal Roderick Sams. "The entire science department has done a great service to our students and school as a whole."

Currently, students in all grade levels are working together to collect data and formulate lessons with the technology equipment. Later in the school year, students should be able to begin surveying the 3-acre site, getting ground samples and conducting other site work.

"It will increase students' technology and scientific research skills and environmental awareness, while instilling in them a lifelong appreciation for nature," James said. "They will learn to work collaboratively with classmates, research topics related to environmental and other scientific issues, conduct experiments and analyze data in order to solve real-world problems."

Within two years, the project is expected to produce a wetland, but the work won't be complete.

"It's an ongoing project," James said. "Science students will work on it every year."

In the future, students will be able to study plants and animals in the habitat, monitor it and provide upkeep to the area.

"From an environmental point of view, this is going to be beneficial from an educational standpoint, having an ecosystem on site to study," Sams said. "It's beneficial to the students and the school and gives us an opportunity for continued projects."

There are already offshoots from the project, he said.

Students also will build a compost shed and use plant and animal debris from the barn, river and surrounding areas to recycle waste to sustain the wetlands and provide natural fertilizer for the horticulture classes, James said.

"The compost will reduce water loss, increase the number of beneficial organisms in the soil and provide a constant flow of nutrients to habitat plants," she said.

Although students haven't yet made it to the part of the project that is hands-on, James said they are enjoying the technological aspect of it right now.

"(The new technology) allows me to look at more information during class time, rather than having to research outside of school," said senior Chaconna Marks. "Hopefully, (the project) will help the school in the future, so I'm looking forward to seeing what we are going to do next."