It’s not going to be a regular day in science class for Bald Eagle Area high school students this year.
Todd Biddle’s students will become scientists and turn a yearlong project into reality by April.
When the Bald Eagle Area School District built its Environmental Center two years ago, it opened up a wealth of teacher-student interactive learning opportunities.
The center, which is closed to the public, includes a pond, indoor labs, a picnic area and plant life within a gated area at the high school behind the baseball fields.
Biddle’s goal with his classes is to draft a plan for a riparian buffer improvement project to help make the pond more sustainable. A riparian buffer is a natural mechanism to improve water quality.
Every elementary school student in the district — about 700 — was able to use the center for class lessons and projects last year, said Port Matilda Elementary School Principal Terri Kenny, who also oversees the center.
“It’s paying huge dividends,” Kenny said. “It’s more than just a science center, but a place to learn like you wouldn’t in the classroom.”
This year, the district is opening the Environmental Center to high school students for the first time.
In June, Biddle, the high school’s agricultural science teacher and Future Farmers of America adviser, along with teachers Mandy Biddle and Jacy Clark, attended a two-week course at Juniata College that focused on different teaching methods in math and science.
The group went to two field testing stations and researched ways to involve students in hands-on learning, Todd Biddle said.
The group came back with a piece of the “Million Dollar Grant” to put toward a class project. The grant was funded through the state Department of Education in partnership with Juniata College and Intermediate Units 10 and 11.
The plan is to teach about 100 students about sustainable development, riparian buffers and invasive species. Students will then start water-quality testing in September.
In October, the students will learn how to develop a riparian buffer and, a month later, begin to develop project plans.
By the end of the year, the school will meet with representatives from the Centre County Conservation District and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to pick the best riparian buffer design.
Students will give a presentation to the school board in March. If approved, planting will begin in April.
“There’s lots of water and wildlife there to work with,” Biddle said.
To make an effective riparian buffer, the students will remove invasive species of plants that have harmed the pond and replace them with plants that have roots that can absorb chemicals, preventing them from running downhill into the pond, where carp and bass live.
Water samples will be collected regularly, Biddle said, with a goal of having clear water that’s cool, has low algae and is sediment free.
“This project is as real as it gets,” Biddle said. “The kids are working with people in the industry, collecting data and working on a design that will actually help the environment. There is a certain satisfaction that will come with it.”