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Partnering Smithtown students with town officials to get firsthand experience in science, engineering

Sixth graders at Accompsett Middle School watch teacher

Sixth graders at Accompsett Middle School watch teacher Amy Olander, test water from Miller's Pond last week. The Smithtown class is studying the effect of excess nitrogen on the environment and ways to mitigate it.  Credit: Jean Randell

A partnership between the Town of Smithtown and Smithtown Central School District will next year bring municipal environmental officials into science classes and students out to municipal facilities including one where thousands of tons of recyclables get processed each year.

The town’s environmental protection efforts in recent years have included managing the spread of invasive plant species, cataloging tens of thousands of trees in the public right of way, seeding bays with shellfish and building a channel and basin system near Accompsett Middle School to filter stormwater runoff before it pollutes the Nissequogue River.

That work provides a rich lode for local educators, said Laura Snell, the district’s science coordinator. "It really gives the students firsthand experience on executing science and engineering practices that are directly related to the curriculum," moving beyond concepts to what she called "the why … It’s more directly related to their lives."

Hundreds of students may eventually participate in a range of activities. At Smithtown High School East, Kathy Re-Yakaboski’s ninth-grade honors earth science students will start next fall with a project that involves measurement, waste management and human behavior. They will weigh and analyze their families’ curbside waste for three weeks and document their families’ disposal habits with short videos.

After a field trip to the Municipal Services Facility, the Old Northport Road site where the town processes 30,000 tons of recyclables and yard waste a year, students will write waste reduction plans for their families, then make another round of observations to see how the plans work when implemented.

At Smithtown High School West, Kimberly Williams’ 11th- and 12th-grade marine science students will continue a project with Smithtown artist Susan Buroker intended to study and raise awareness about the town’s 10,134 storm drains.

Along with art teacher Timothy Needles’ advanced placement students, they will paint murals outside storm drains on district property, connecting dumping to water quality issues. Students will monitor drains and brainstorm engineering solutions to filter pollutants.

Nicholas Caporale, 17, an 11th grader who took the class this year, said his observations had taught him that even debris had seasons: leaves and brush in the fall, ice and snow in the winter, then more leaves and "a lot more trash than natural stuff" as the weather warmed.

At Accompsett Middle School, Amy Olander’s sixth graders will learn about town efforts to prevent or mitigate nitrogen pollution, visiting the bioswale outside their school and observing for themselves in classroom experiments how pollution contributes to algal growth.

Those are real-world scenarios for the children of a waterfront community like Smithtown, she said. "They want to know why they can’t go to the beach sometimes in the summer," when runoff forces closures, Olander said. "They need to have some understanding about what’s going on around them."

Mike Engelmann, the town’s solid waste coordinator, said he welcomed the chance to show off the Municipal Services Facility and discuss his work, which he called "not glamorous" but important.

"With the coming closure of the Brookhaven landfill and aging infrastructure, we’re facing almost a perfect storm of waste management issues. It’s important to highlight that for the younger generation," he said.

Bringing learning out of the classroom

  • Town-school Smithtown partnership will bring science students to town bioswales, storm drains and the Municipal Resources Facility

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