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Not your typical high school science lab

By Katy Murphy
Monday, November 21st, 2011 at 7:35 am in high schools, science, students, teachers.

Lara Trale, who teaches the sophomore English classes at Oakland High School’s Environmental Science Academy, wrote this piece about an ongoing class project — with help from some of her students.

CH2M Hill 11-15-11 027
photo courtesy of Katie Noonan, co-director of Oakland High School’s Environmental Science Academy

Stop by Lake Merritt most Tuesdays, and you’ll see dozens of high school students pulling up samples of the lake’s algae-rich water, squinting into refractometers, and peering down as a lowered Secchi disk disappears into the murk.

This is routine for the 70 sophomores of Oakland High School’s Environmental Science Academy, who have been recording water quality data since September 20 as part of their ongoing monitoring of Lake Merritt. They analyze the lake’s turbidity, salinity, density, dissolved oxygen levels, and acidity. They record water and air temperatures. Microscope analysis of a plankton tow reveals some of the smallest marine organisms living in Lake Merritt.

This Tuesday, Nov. 15, three representatives of environmental firm CH2M Hill observed the students in their water monitoring work. This marked the start of a partnership between the ESA and CH2M Hill.

Two days later, the ESA sophomores visited the company’s downtown Oakland offices to learn more about environmental engineering and professional water quality monitoring.

Sophomore Geary Yu said the visit made him want to become an engineer. “I want to make a change, like them, in the environment,” he said.

The students will continue their weekly trips to Lake Merritt throughout the school year, and some might apply for summer internships with the firm. The two-hour block of biology and environmental science classes allows them time to walk the mile from school to the lake.

“I feel that we are doing a good thing by monitoring the lake,” said sophomore Robert Hubbard. “We’re helping to improve the habitat for marine life by tracking water levels, density, and salinity.”

His classmate, Karen Luo, said these classes are more interesting than “regular” biology.

“We are not just reading knowledge from the book,” she said. “We are going outside to learn more about environmental issues in the community.”

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  • Nextset

    When I was taking biology at Oakland Tech’s Summer School we went to the Cemetery on Piedmont Ave and took samples of pond water for microscopic analysis. Still remember what we saw. I hope Lake Merritt isn’t that bad yet!

  • Ms. McLaughlin

    Thanks, Ms. Trale, for highlighting the work our kids our doing at the Lake. The Environmental Science Academy is one of the brightest gems in our school district, and I’m ever impressed with the students’ enthusiasm and dedication, both to their studies and to the well being of the world around them.

    Hoping to return to Catalina again this year too! I’d chaperone these students anywhere, but it’s one very special field trip where a crazy old lady gets to watch the sun RISE over the Pacific, go snorkeling at night, AND kiss a sea cucumber on the (lips? Anyway, it’s a fine old tradition.)

    Can’t gush enough about the amazing young people of the ESA. Oakland WILL change the world; just watch and wait.

  • livegreen

    Thank you Katy for the short article on this Academy at Oak-High. I’d heard about this program from a neighborhood kid who goes there, but haven’t seen too much written up about it. Education in the field, aside from textbooks, is an absolute necessity to provide real life context and perspective.

    I especially like that the school & program are making efforts to create internships for students at businesses. This is excellent in all ways for everyone.

    I look forward to reading more about this program and it’s success. It is creating a foundation to be competitive with Oakland Tech.

  • livegreen

    BTW, I understand there’s an idea to extend the Academies (or at least preparation for them) into Middle Schools. Has anybody else heard this being discussed or know where it is in implementation?

    Katy, can OUSD give you any info on this?