Academy at the Lakes’ successful science department has even more to brag about with the addition of its Environmental Science course led by science teacher Ms. Sheri Mahoney.
The course is a field-based class designed to engage students in an in-depth study of ecology with a focus on the human impact on the environment. Academy’s newly implemented block schedule provides students take time to discover the world around them through field-based explorations.
EXPERIENCES BEYOND THE CLASSROOM
All Upper Division students who have taken biology are eligible to take Environmental Science. The only other pre-requisite is a willingness to get dirty.
During their block schedule class, once a week, students don their rain boots and trail attire and rush outdoors with their field books in hand to observe the nature that is preserved on Academy’s 47-acre MacManus property.
The field aspect of the course provides hands-on learning and a non-traditional learning environment that suits many students.
Said Ms. Mahoney: “I have a student who is shy and not very vocal in class. In the field, he smiles the whole time and is actually giddy. He walks next to me and we just take in the beauty together and we connect more in these moments than we could in 100 years of inside time. I can see him feeling the environment, and he recognizes that in me. We just work well out there. I can tell he’s much more at home in the field, and it helps me know and understand him better.”
Science Department Chair Mrs. Colleen McCormick shares Ms. Mahoney’s excitement about the course.
“This is true scientific learning in action,” said Mrs. McCormick. “Being out in the field, seeing the environment changing each time the students visit the property and interacting directly with the land and water is so much more powerful than just learning it from a textbook or on a screen.”
Observation is key to the course, and Ms. Mahoney focuses on teaching her students to change the way they observe. Learning how to observe through the structured processes of doing increases their awareness.
“Questions such as when we focus and when not to focus and learning how to tune in are focal points,” said Ms. Mahoney. “While students take in the beauty around them, they specifically note the differences between what a space looks like this week compared to last week. Students note animal tracks, water levels, and water quality. Students also use infrared cameras to observe wildlife activity.”
In addition to improving their observation skills, students enhance their spatial skills — spending time outdoors in a natural habitat encourages them to feel more comfortable and aware of their surroundings.
IMPACTING THE WORLD
The lessons learned go far beyond improved observation and spatial skills. The way the students view the land and look after the living things on the land drastically changes. Their passion is evident and they slowly become advocates for Academy’s property and the land that surrounds it.
“In taking this class, I can be an advocate for the planet, and learn how to properly take care of and appreciate the environment,” said Regan McCormick ’17. “Through Ms. Mahoney’s teaching and the opportunity to explore our little piece of Academy property, I have seen organisms in the natural habitat that I would have never been able to appreciate elsewhere.”
“I hope to be able to take my knowledge and understanding from this class and share it with those around me, showing them how we can all do our part to take care of our Earth no matter how small our part may be.”
Jonas Moros ’17 offers another perspective, though equally important.
“Environmental science isn’t just all hokey and saving the world. It’s about having a relationship with nature around you and knowing what’s going on around you and recognizing when things are wrong or right. It’s not just stereotypical ‘hippie’ business; it’s about sustainability and moving forward in a healthy way … making progress in a healthier way.”
Ms. Mahoney’s goal for the course is to create stewards of land, fostering 20 new student advocates who can share their knowledge and their passion to make a difference in our world, aligning with Academy’s mission of dedicating ourselves to the success of each individual at school, in the community, and in the world.