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Austin High gets pilot conservation program

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com · (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Austin High is one of 12 Alabama schools selected for a pilot program to help make environmental education and conservation relevant to the average student.

Project Community uses a community’s local natural resources to help students learn about science and the need to take care of natural resources statewide.

Local relevance is critical to helping students understand the need to care for the natural resources around them, said Wetlands Edge Environmental Center teacher Susan Estes, who was in Montgomery on Monday for the announcement.

The Wetlands Edge center is a partnership between Decatur City Schools and BP, located on BP’s Certified Wildlife Habitat in Decatur.

Estes said if students learn to appreciate the area’s natural resources, they will help ensure that those resources, which most Alabamians take for granted, will be around for future generations. Without that understanding, some critical resources may disappear, she said.

She added that relating environmental issues to local concerns can also help students understand subjects like global warming.

Austin High School Principal Don Snow and science teacher Richard Simon also attended the announcement.

Snow said he is excited for Austin to be involved in the project but that he came to Montgomery with little knowledge about how Project Community will work.

“We are already doing a number of these things, but it will be nice to have additional resources the program provides,” he said.

New science test

Alabama Superintendent of Education Joe Morton said the start of Project Community comes at a time when Alabama is getting ready to administer a new science test as part of the high school graduation exam. He called the program “a new arrow in the quiver to teach students about science” and a tool to engage student interest.

Project Community Director Doug Phillips, host of Alabama Public Television’s “Discovering Alabama” program and a University of Alabama professor, said he hopes the project will continue beyond one year.

Discovering Alabama and the Alabama Museum of Natural History at The University of Alabama administer the program with funding from a $126,000 Alabama Association of Conservation Districts grant.

The grant doesn’t provide money directly to schools, Rather, it provides tools and educational resources, said Beth Stevens, a classroom teacher coordinating the project. Tools include microscopes, global positioning devices and digital cameras.

Noopie Cosby, spokesman for the Alabama Association of Conservation Districts, said that as Alabama becomes more urban, the number of Alabama farms is shrinking.

“Sustainability is the key,” said Cosby. “The average age of the Alabama farmer is 60. Think what it would be like if we had to import all of our food.” Air and water quality are keys to sustainability, he said. “If you can’t breath and you don’t have water, you can’t live. We need for the public to understand that.”

Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries Ron Sparks said it is important for students to understand the need for conservation.

“What better way to get out the message that we need to preserve and conserve our natural resources than through our teachers?” Sparks said.

Two schools from each of the state’s six conservation districts are in the pilot project for the current school year. They are:

Russellville High School, Russellville; Austin High School, Decatur; Cherokee County High School, Centre; Locust Fork High School, Locust Fork; Sulligent School, Sulligent; Paul Bryant High School, Tuscaloosa; Keith Middle-High School, Orrville; Booker T. Washington High School, Tuskegee; Pike County High School, Brundidge; Headland High School, Headland; Fruitdale High School, Fruitdale; and Escambia County High School, Atmore.

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