Pottstown Mercury: Congressman Ryan Costello visits Daniel Boone High School science team
UNION TWP. >> Congressman Ryan Costello doesn’t seem to mind getting his hands dirty.
Despite being dressed in a suit, Costello was game enough to stick his bare hands in soil to do a little light gardening alongside students in the Daniel Boone Area High School greenhouse on Monday.
Costello, R-6th Dist., met with the school’s “Green Team,” and toured its laboratory to learn more about its entry into the national Lexus Eco Final Challenge contest. The team has been conducting research into hydroponics and biogas digesters and won a $10,000 prize in the Lexus Air & Climate Eco Challenge. In order to win the contest’s final challenge, the team had to present its work to a local elected official.
“The jobs of the future are in (research and development),” Costello told students after the tour. “The types of stuff you’re doing now, to be able to take that experience and, if it interests you, do that same type of work in college and get a degree in whatever iteration of biology, or chemistry or iteration it may be, that’s who’s hiring.”
Under the direction of physics teachers Sid Harwood and Shannon Helzer, the extracurricular environmental science team has been churning out some impressive work. It’s biogas digester, for example, takes wasted food from the school cafeteria and converts it into renewable energy sources. Likewise the aquaponic and hydroponic gardens in the greenhouse are helping to create a sustainable source of fresh vegetables at the school.
Since neither he nor Harwood are biology or chemistry teachers, Helzer said, they’ve at times been learning right alongside their students. Last year, for example, while studying algae, they neglected to take into account the nitrogen cycle and ended up accidently killing their samples.
“Everything looked great but we came in one day and the place was horribly smelly,” he said. “It died overnight and it instantly stinks.”
Since then, Harwood has received a certificate to teach environmental science and has helped grow the program. The Lexus Contest has been a huge benefit because it has allowed the program to grow much faster than it probably would have otherwise, Helzer said. In fact, pending school board approval, the high school plans to offer an environmental science class next school year.
“It’s a trend in schools to offer environmental science,” Helzer said, “and we’re a little behind that trend. But this (contest) has definitely kick started it. We’ll (now) have one of the top programs because we’ll have real labs.”
The program is becoming so good, in fact, it has already attracted attention from a number of organizations in the area.
“We’ve actually had four different colleges contact us asking for help in setting up certain systems,” Harwood said. “I’ve been asked to go speak at Villanova for their environmental science program to their students about both of these alternative energy programs.”
Having Costello meet with students was helpful to them, Helzer said, because it provided a civics lesson disguised as a science experiment.
“I was very grateful,” he said, “because I feel it’s an opportunity not only for the kids to let somebody in government know what they’re doing, but also to learn the importance of interacting with elected officials.”
Daniel Boone junior Amelia Fox, 16, agreed adding that by coming to the school it showed that he wasn’t just paying lip service.
“I think it was a really special experience,” she said. “Sometimes we get stuff in the mail, but to have an actual congressman come down and actually pay attention … he took time out of his busy schedule and came and saw our progress and that he actually had feedback for us (was special).”
Costello’s visit, Helzer said, helped students realize how important their work is and inspired them to keep going.
“I love the fact that he took the time to get his hands dirty and plant those plants,” he said. “That was really cool. A guy in a suit — that was really neat.”