Amesbury students explore science of recycling

BRYAN EATON/Staff photoAn Amesbury Middle School STEM team is working to rid water of plastic particles, from left, Calista Catarius, 13, Sam Guimaraes, 13, Natalie Welling, 13, Dylan Palen, 12, and Wesley Evans, 11.

AMESBURY — Students at Amesbury Middle School are getting a good lesson in the benefits of recycling by taking part in the state’s second annual STEM Week later this month.

"There is a federal mandate to get more (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) into classrooms over a five-year period," math coach Jennifer Donais said. "This is another push from Massachusetts to improve those skills."

Donais learned about the state STEM Week program while checking Twitter one day and quickly signed up herself and two other middle school teachers, Rachel Kezer and Christine DeNuzzio, to be STEM Week ambassadors.

STEM Week is designed to boost the interest, awareness and ability of all students in the STEM fields. The school's ambassadors decided to initiate a recycling project they introduced to students last week.

“We want to produce zero waste in the middle school, with a focus on plastic," Donais said.

All of the sixth grade is participating in the program as well as a large portion of the eighth grade and the school's life skills and autism behavioral programs, too.

Students have been taught about the types of plastics harming the environment and are expected to complete a design challenge to use recyclable plastics to remove microplastics from water.

Eighth-grader Natalie Welling is part of a team building a miniature foam boat with a slanted, 45-degree-angle filter designed to scoop up microplastics as it moves along.

"The plastics will naturally move up into the filter," Welling said. "They will get caught and it will probably be a mesh screen or a coffee filter. The goal is to keep the water moving after it goes through."

Her classmate Sam Guimaraes said boat construction requires plenty of mathematics knowledge.

"You can't just put the motor together," Guimaraes said. "You have to do all the calculations of friction and drag."

Creating a miniature boat is something that goes beyond mere pencil on paper, according to Guimaraes.

"That's the biggest leap in the project, probably," Guimaraes said. "Because that is when you know you actually have something that you can actually play with. You have a chance of not just messing it up on paper because, on paper, there was always a chance of it going straight (into the trash)."

Sixth-grader Dylan Palen is responsible for making a microplastics filter.

"It'll probably take a long time for any of us to actually get it done," he said. "But I think it is possible."

STEM Week runs from Oct 21-25. The middle school will host a zero-waste plastic fair Oct. 23.

The teams with the fair's top two projects will take a trip to the Reggie Lewis Center in Boston on Oct. 25 for a STEM showcase where their projects will be judged by science and technology industry leaders.

Fifth-graders will also take a field trip to Camp Bournedale in Plymouth during STEM Week, while seventh-graders will take a trip to Sandy Point State Reservation in Ipswich later in the school year.

"When people hear STEM, they think it is only science or it is only math," Donais said. "This program shows how it relates to all subjects, including English and art.

"That is so important in our classrooms that we are not just teaching them skills, but we are teaching them how to apply those skills," she added. Because when they get to their jobs, those are changing and they need to be able to apply those skills to be able to solve these problems that we are going to have in the future. So, this is super important."

Stem Week Challenge website: www.stemweekchallenge.org.

Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at jsullivan@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.

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