Coal Ash Debated Among 8th Graders as part of the Alliance’s RiverWise Schools Program
At the end of the summer, following the installation of the permeable pavement and rainwater harvesting sculpture at Binford Middle School in Richmond, Virginia, 8th grade science teacher, Brendan Trache approached Meredeth Dash about an idea for a project and asked if she would be willing to collaborate. Meredeth Dash, the Alliance’s Program Coordinator for RiverWise Schools agreed, as this is the culminating year of a 3 year effort at this school to provide watershed education to teachers and students.
Over the course of a month, starting October 15, Meredeth co-planned, co-taught and provided resources for the 8th grade team of teachers. Mr. Trache’s idea became an Arts Integrated Unit involving Math, Science, Language Arts, Social Studies, and Theater, and covered at least 10 distinct Standards of Learning. Approximately 70 eighth graders studied the basics of Coal Ash, researched different stakeholder perspectives on the issue, participated in a Silent Debate, took part in a Mock Protest, and held a Mock Town Hall discussion. Students were challenged to see the issue from all sides including VA Department of Environmental Quality, oyster farmers, protestors, coal miners, University scientists, and energy producers.
One highlight of this collaboration occurred when Mrs. Dash led a lesson that linked the coal ash issue to the larger impacts on our watershed by taking students outside. Students explored the new permeable pavement entrance and rainwater harvesting sculpture that was installed over the summer and discussed how their school works to keep local waterways healthy. Even more exciting was that the lesson was filmed by WTVR Channel 6’s Building Better Minds series and played over Thanksgiving.
During the final week of the Unit, students in Mr. Self’s Language Arts classes who were studying scripts, , wrote and edited their own scripts from their particular stakeholder perspectives. Mr. Vollmer, the Theater Arts teacher was able to merge all the perspectives into one dramatic and heartfelt “End Coal Ash Now” Showcase script. Filming of the script took place all over Binford’s campus and the final version was presented on November 15th at Binford’s First Showcase to an audience of parents, teachers, and students.
Mr. Trache’s ability to use a local environmental issue as a lens through which he teaches his Standards of Learning is admirable. In fact, this multi-disciplinary Unit at Binford is an example of the type of Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience (MWEE) described in the Chesapeake Bay Agreement. By allowing students to explore the issue, collect or research data in the field, draw conclusions, and take action on a local issue, students become more environmentally literate. The RiverWise Schools program is focused on additional opportunities to engage teachers in MWEE activities in 2019.