Students consider how to save community in severe drought

Mar. 13, 2014 @ 11:14 AM

Gamewell Middle School eighth-graders had to come up with a plan to save the community from drying up and blowing away.

Science teacher Zach Morrow posed a scenario for his students, currently studying the hydrology chapter in their science books: Lake Rhodhiss has 100 days left of water, so what should people do?

He divided the students into three groups to come up with plans and present them to a “town board” of Kathy Barlow, assistant principal of Gamewell Middle; Regina Barrier of N.C. State University; Keith Hindman, the county middle school director; Superintendent Steve Stone; and Pam Steuer of the Caldwell Soil and Water Conservation District office.

The students were excited and nervous to speak before the board. Ashley Euceda said she was proud that middle school students could have “a voice in this.” Elijah Brooks said he was “happy to be here to present our project.”

The group of students assigned to represent conservation interests told the board there was no option but to cut water use by 50 percent. The students assigned to represent business interests countered that businesses and medical offices could not function with that large a cut, and they proposed a 25 percent cut. The students assigned to represent residents’ interests agreed with the business group, saying a 50 percent cut could create unacceptable living conditions.

After the presentations, Steuer announced the board’s decision to support the conservation argument for an immediate 50 percent cut in water use.

Hindman asked the students if they viewed water differently and if they had started using less because of their research. Many students nodded. Tyler Hedrick from the conservation team told the board that he stopped leaving the water running while brushing his teeth and took shorter showers.

This is not the first time Morrow has used current events to spruce up old lessons.

“I try to read the news and think about how it can apply to our standards and then try to weave current events and what’s happening with standards that I’m supposed to be teaching,” Morrow said.

Previously, Morrow assigned a project looking at the spread of diseases. He said the students “bought into the scenario more than I expected” by pointing out when someone sniffled or coughed. While Morrow enjoyed the mock water conservation town meeting, he felt the students had difficulty accepting the situation as reality because of the recent wet weather.

“The timing wasn’t great, but I think the idea that we could be facing significant drought over the next 10, 15, 20 years in this area is very real,” Morrow said.

He said that one student has proposed a slightly different approach to the water-conservation issue — a “Hunger Games”-style scenario.

“He said, ‘I think we can make it work, and you can get bad water or good water, and we can set rules for the water.’ I don’t know if he realizes it or not, but that’s what we do already as a society,” Morrow said. “You have the EPA, and they set guidelines for what kind of water quality we’re going to have.”