open letter newport ri

We are local high school science teachers and would like to share details of a collaborative project we just completed with our students. Over the last year, Rogers High School and Portsmouth High School have partnered with the Aquidneck Land Trust (ALT) to conduct a unit on Climate Resiliency. We developed the outline of this curriculum together, and the students gathered up-to-date information through a number of resources. With generous underwriting support from the William H. Donner Foundation, Inc., our units were taken to the next level. Funding was allotted for materials to be used for a student expo, and a speaker was arranged to address both the students and the public. The expos were designed to allow students to create individual projects capturing the information they had collected to design built solutions, such as storm proof housing, sea level rise mitigation, and household carbon scrubbing systems.

This year, as we know, took a little bit of a turn. While expos, community judges and a lecture from Dr. Kelton McMahon were all on the schedule, some innovation had to come into play to continue the unit through this time of digital learning.  At Portsmouth High School, it was kept alive by the students continuing their research and creating detailed digital infographics to demonstrate their knowledge of the topic. Students in Rogers High School’s P-TECH program developed virtual models and other digital artifacts to address the effects of a changing climate on our island.

Originally, Dr. McMahon was scheduled to address the students at the schools during the day and then present to the public in the evening, during Aquidneck Island Earth Week. Due to gathering restrictions, he instead conducted a webinar for each respective school, reaching more than 150 students and engaged members of the community. Participants were exposed to his work as a Coastal Institute Senior Fellow and professor at the University of RI, where he has done extensive studies on aquatic wildlife and the effects that a changing climate has on them. Students were amazed at the studies he has conducted from pole to pole and many places in between. A few of them even restructured their future ambitions to follow a similar path.  

Kudos to ALT and their donor for offering such an amazing opportunity for these island residents. During this COVID-19 crisis, it has become obvious that humans have an effect on the environment, with pollution clearing and wildlife making a comeback around the planet. It provided a great opportunity for the youth to take some time to not only contemplate the issues that they will be faced with in the future, but also to brainstorm some innovative ideas on how they could be remedied. Thank you to ALT, the William H. Donner Foundation, and our Aquidneck Island high school students for adapting to a new way of learning in order to successfully complete this important unit. 

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JP Arsenault, Portsmouth High School

Lisa Zabel, Portsmouth High School 

Bethany Borgueta, Rogers High School

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