OHS students ‘involved in a real-time problem’

By NICOLE SMITH, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 10/11/16

OAKMAN — Oakman High School students have been studying invasive species to make a difference in their community.

The school was awarded a $1,500 grant from The Alabama Invasive Plant Council late last year to fund the students’ invasive …

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OHS students ‘involved in a real-time problem’

Posted

OAKMAN — Oakman High School students have been studying invasive species to make a difference in their community.

The school was awarded a $1,500 grant from The Alabama Invasive Plant Council late last year to fund the students’ invasive species research and to help them inform the public about the lasting effects of invasive species introduction.

Connie Miller, a science teacher at the school, purchased lab equipment with the grant funding to examine the growth of an invasive species. Their chosen invader to research? The all too familiar kudzu that’s in many corners of Walker County proved to be a plentiful source to examine.

“We’ll be examining these kudzu samples for nearly a year,” Miller said while showing the plastic containers housing their plant samples in the school’s lab. “We’re trying to examine kudzu’s contribution to global warming.”

Oakman High science teacher Allan Massey added, “They’re little self-contained capsules where we can measure oxygen, carbon dioxide, look at growth rates and have them under controlled conditions.”

The specialized capsules give students an opportunity to work with equipment they normally wouldn’t have access to at the high school level, while teaching them new research methods, Massey said.

Outside of hands-on examination in the science lab, environmental studies students at Oakman have wrote a research paper on invasive species.

In the coming months, the students will do field work to further examine kudzu.

“It’s everything from researching in the library, to seeing it in the laboratory, to going out in the field and measuring what’s there, and then taking steps on controlling it better,” Massey said.

Dr. Susan Caplow, an assistant professor and coordinator of environmental studies at the University of Montevallo, recently visited juniors and seniors at Oakman that are enrolled in environmental studies and chemistry classes. She spoke of the university’s new environmental studies major to encourage the students to start examining career options, and she educated them on invasive species, particularly kudzu.

“Kudzu can grow up to a foot a day,” Caplow told the students. “We had to introduce the invasive species we have hundreds and hundreds of times to get the invasives we have.”

Caplow also visited Curry High School to discuss the university’s environmental studies program.

Another aspect of the students’ work, other than learning how invasives are introduced and multiply, is educating the community on how the simple action of invasive species introduction causes lasting changes to the environment.

“Everywhere we turn we seem to encounter plants and animals in our county that may not have been here only a few generations ago,” Massey said. “Each year they seem to spread more and more, taking over and changing Mother Nature’s original design for Walker County.”

He continued, “We can do everything we want to do with kudzu. We’re not going to find a solution for it, we’re not going to fix it, we’re not going to slow it down, but I think getting the kids involved in a real time problem in their neighborhood is a good thing.”