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Dutch Fork Elementary students use science fair to address environmental problems

 81 fifth graders at Dutch Fork Elementary Academy for Environmental Sciences recently completed and showcased their science fair projects to 30 judges that consisted of teachers and community members.


The students were paired into groups of two or three and had projects such as “Homemade Pizza vs. Store Bought Pizza,” “What’s in Your Food?,” “Which Laundry Detergent Works Best?,” “How Can YOU prevent landslides?,” and “Aerosol vs. Ozone” just to name a few.


Resident Scientist Amy Umberger, who teaches at the school and led the efforts for the fair, said this year’s projects were different than in years past.


“A lot of the projects we saw this year were sparked by the community members who came and spoke to our students,” said Umberger. “In fact all of our water related projects came out of a talk that a community member from Richland County Storm Water Management gave to our students.”


The students began working on their projects in early September, researching, testing and working together as a team during the school day. Umberger said the approach of working on the projects as a team during the school day was purposeful and benefited the students in more ways than one.


“Our fifth graders already had to do science fair projects and a lot of times the parents would take on the burden of getting the projects done,” explained Umberger. “So we decided that no matter what we do we would make time for the kids to do the projects at school and invite the parents and community members to help the students along the way. Scientists in general don’t work by themselves so we had our students working with their colleagues in groups. The students were not only able to learn from each other, but able to use their individual strengths for the better of the group.”


Once the projects were done, 17 community members from organizations such as DHEC, the Department of Agricultural, Healthy Hands Cooking and Saluda Shoals Park were paired with teachers and staff at the school to judge the projects. The following day, the judges’ findings were presented to the students at an awards ceremony. Seven projects received honorable mention as well as a first, second and third place winner. The winning project “Deadly Polluters” asked, “Will brass bullets leave trace metals in water and soil?” Students Ellie Stewart, Sam Roma and Bryson Jackson shared the idea behind their first place project.


“We knew a lot of people around here hunt, but the bullets get left on the ground when they are done,” Roma said. “We found that the left behind bullet casings pollute the soil and water.”


Being the Academy for Environmental Sciences, Assistant Principal Brandon Gantt said all the projects were enveloped around the school’s theme. He said, “All of the projects really looked at how can we help the environment. We’re looking at how can 10 and 11 year olds really do something meaningful with regards to the environment.”


Asked what it was like to win the school wide science fair Stewart said, “It’s very thrilling! I never thought this would actually happen.” Roma added, “It’s exciting! It was just so nerve racking sitting there waiting, but in the end it was worth it!”


The top 3 projects as well as the honorable mentions will now move on to compete at the District-wide Elementary Science fair on Saturday, February 10 at Dutch Fork High School.