PBA Aids Middle-Schoolers with Civic-Minded Science Projects

Like other students at her school, seventh-grader Kimberly Mace saw a problem: Water, a precious resource worldwide, is being wasted by adults and young people alike.

So when asked to come up with a science-related problem and to outline the solution, the Conniston Middle School student and a few classmates decided to raise awareness about the water issue.

Conniston Middle School students show their poster about water conservation to visitors in Palm Beach Atlantic University's Weyenberg Center. PBA is a private, Christ-centered college in West Palm Beach, Fla., USA.
Conniston Middle School student Catherine Schrubb speaks about her group's poster on water conservation to visitors in Palm Beach Atlantic University's Weyenberg Center.

Working after school with help from Palm Beach Atlantic University science professors and Student Government Association members from PBA, the students conducted research, developed a plan of action and created a poster showing their findings.

“I was very surprised by how much water is being wasted,” said Mace, who came with her teammates to display their colorful and information-packed poster during a showcase at PBA last week.

Among the group’s practical suggestions: Reducing time spent in the shower and installing low-flow toilets in homes.

During the showcase, held in the Weyenberg Center, other groups of students displayed posters on topics ranging from pollution to childhood obesity. Among those on hand for the poster viewing were PBA faculty and administrators, as well as guests from the nonprofit Quantum Foundation.

In 2012, the Quantum Foundation awarded PBA a grant for $175,000 over three years for a collaborative effort that adopts an innovative approach to science education for middle school students at Conniston.

The civic engagement project is one of several academic activities involving PBA’s Center for Integrative Science Learning (CISL) and Conniston. The middle school is a neighbor of PBA’s new Rinker Athletic Campus, which is under construction. PBA and Conniston are both members of an educational partnership known as the Parker Avenue Consortium, which also includes nearby Belvedere Elementary and Forest Hill High School.

In January, the Center for Integrative Science Learning joined forces with the student council at Conniston to work on the small-group research projects.

“One of the things we always look for in assignments is that they have a real-world application,” said Conniston principal Oscar Otero, who noted that the projects allowed for interaction between students and community members in a way that was relevant and meaningful.

Dr. Mireille Aleman, assistant professor of chemistry at PBA and the center’s director, said that SGA members from the University would continue working with their middle school counterparts to teach them how to raise money for the projects and become advocates for their causes.

“It is exhilarating to see the enthusiasm of these students and their passion to be agents of change in their school and their community,” she said.

School of Arts and Sciences faculty members Dr. Linda Sedlacek and Dr. Thomas Chesnes visited the school on Tuesday afternoons to offer coaching and guidance. Dr. Chesnes, an associate professor of biology, had been involved previously at the school, taking students on research trips to the Lake Worth Lagoon and estuary.

Dr. Chesnes said he enjoyed working with the students in this project as well. “It was a good opportunity to interact with, mentor and help these students develop their ideas,” he said.