Barnstable High School launches $1.2M environmental science & technology lab
Bronwen Howells Walsh
Dec 23, 2020
Now entering his 18th year of teaching at BHS, Smith teaching environmental science and biology in the school’s student-driven Environmental Science and Technology Pathway.
He also is collaborating with some of the region’s most accomplished scientists – among them, Laurel Schaider of The Silent Spring Institute; Amy Costa of the Center for Coastal Studies; and Zenas Crocker, Barnstable Clean Water Coalition – to start a high school intership program.
The new lab opened to BHS students Oct. 26. A partnership between Town Manager Mark Ells, a water engineer who worked with Brian Howe, professor of marine science and technology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, and Supt. Meg Mayo-Brown, the lab will help grow “partnerships and collaborations with people who actually work in the industry on the Cape,” Smith said.
“Of the companies looking to expand their education field service, everyone we’ve talked to is on board,” he said. That includes firms like ARC Hatchery in Dennis, for example.
“They grow their own strains of algae, spawn five species and subspecies of shellfish (oysters, clams, bay scallops, and surf clams), mature them to various ‘seed’ sizes and ship market-sized product around the country,” Smith said. “They have two farms, one in Wellfleet and one in Barnstable. They’ve been around since the ’50s.”
An Environmental Science major in college, Smith next spent two years working as an environmental consultant. “I enjoyed the job but, at the same time, was 23/24 years old and thought, ‘Well, let’s see what else is out there.’
“I answered a newspaper ad to teach Science in Barnstable, and the rest is history,” he said, apparently grinning under his mask.
Smith is in the right place at an ideal time. The lab not only supports a career and technical education program that aligns with the region’s labor market needs, but the new venture is important to the town’s commitment to water quality.
Students will develop transferable practical and workplace skills in the environmental science, maritime and energy sustainability industries that are in high regional demand.
Some avenues open to them include industry credentials like OSHA 10, OSHA 40-hour Hazardous Waste Operators License, Waste Water Certificate/License, Drinking Water Operator, Boater Safety, and CPR/First Aid.
With a better understanding of environmental impacts, students will be trained to help contribute solutions to a variety of environmental problems when they go on to college or enter a career in environmental science, Smith said. They study sustainable energy, monitor air, soil, and water quality as it relates to land use and the management of natural resources—all via hands-on field training and “project-based learning” in the BHS lab, greenhouse(s) and related Cape businesses.
Over the past two years, the district has been awarded $300,000 in Massachusetts Skills Capital Grants and $15,000 in Cobb Grants, Mayo-Brown said. The Town Council supported the program with $1,222,700 in capital funds to design, construct, and equip a 27-x-74-ft. Environmental Science & Technology lab and an adjacent 24-x-48-ft. greenhouse with industry-grade, durable equipment and furnishings.
Grant funds were also used to upgrade and improve the school’s existing 11-x-26-ft. greenhouse, so that students now have access to two greenhouses for their studies.
The lab, greenhouses and new classroom space were cleared for occupancy just this month, and teachers and students will begin working in the lab space when they return from the holiday break in the new year.
2.5 years in the works
Comprised of adults and students, the Program Advisory Committee (PAC) began in December of 2017 and meets twice a year to provide guidance.
Committee members were instrumental in helping to develop a program approved by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in November 2018, Smith said, and they provide valuable insight into the labor market and job skills.
“It’s just a wonderful opportunity,” Ells said during a tour earlier this month. “Living on Cape Cod is all about water. We’re doing work in Barnstable that’s internationally recognized, and kids have got to be part of it.”
Ells described fielding phone calls “from all over the nation, asking how Barnstable’s carbon fiber filters are working” to curb groundwater PFAS levels. “We have a water treatment plant. They’ll have access to Harvard. This is so exciting to me.You could even partner with UMass,” Ells said.
“The Cape is essentially a labratory,” Smith said.
Program advisory committee members include: Christopher Adams, Chief of Staff at Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce; Marina Brock, Senior Environmental, Health, & Safety Specialist, Barnstable County Department of Health & Environment; Doug Brown, Title 5 Septic Inspections, Installations & Excavation; Rick Bsharah, Engineering Department Head at Cape Cod Community College; Bridget Burger, director at Cape Cod Regional STEM Network; Tom Cambareri, Water Resources Director, Cape Cod Commission; Kalliope Chute, HM Environmental Specialist, Cape Cod Cooperative Extension; Zee Crocker, Executive Director at Barnstable Clean Water Coalition; Lindsey Counsell, Retired Executive Director at Three Bays Preservation, Inc.; Graham Hempstead and Andrew McKeen, BHS students; Liz Packard, School Program Coordinator, Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary; Dale Saad, Senior Project Manager – Special Projects, Barnstable Department of Public Works; Ann Penni, Parent, BIS Science Teacher; Christopher Viens, Parent, BHS Teacher; Ann Witzig, Retired, Environmental Technology Instructor, Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical High School; and George Zoto, Senior Environmental Analyst, Department of Environmental Protection.
Members also offered input during the lab’s planning stages, Smith said, providing guidance on the type of lab setting and the tools/equipment that students would need.
Among the equipment that students have helped to unpack and inventory are two 500-gal. aquaponic systems; eight 280-gal. multi-use aquatic tanks; five Hydroponic grow systems; two HACH multi-meter portable water test kits; a quadcopter drone with a Hasselblad camera; a 36″ typographic map printer; GoPro cameras; all-weather student field tablets; and other field testing supplies.
Smith said current program enrollment includes 53 students (grades 9-12), who are concurrently enrolled in 42 additional required and recommended BHS Science & Engineering courses.
The Environmental Science and Technology (EST) courses that BHS seniors can take include: Introduction to/ EST (1 credit); EST/Water Technology I (1 credit); EST/Water Technology II (2 credits). And on Smith’s wish list for next fiscal year: EST/Water Technology III (3 credits).
The district also has an Articulation Agreement with Cape Cod Community College, where students in the EST Pathway work toward college credit while enrolled at BHS, Mayo-Brown said. Courses include ENV118 Introduction to Environmental Science (4 credits) and ENV125 Coastal Ecology (3 credits).
“Ells ‘gets’ us,” Smith said, adding that students are just as eager to get back in the lab as he is, although internships are currently on hold this semester given Gov. Baker’s pandemic emergency orders.
“We’re a technical program. There’s not a minute we don’t use. I would eventually like to get more of them out in the field. Some are already working with Zee Crocker (BCWC); they’re monitoring cyanobacteria blooms at Marstons Mills Pond and Shubael’s Pond. There’s a lot of possibilities around here for getting kids out into the field,” he said.
For additional information, please email Michael Smith, EST Educator, at Smith_Michael@mybps.us. Or reach out to Jennifer Caron, Science and Technology Curriculum Coordinator, at email@example.com; or BPS Grant Manager Jackie Gillis at firstname.lastname@example.org