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Ronan Middle School students earn Alaskan trip

by BERL TISKUS
Reporter | June 29, 2023 12:00 AM

Bill Becker’s fourth period class at Ronan Middle School is called Advanced Academic Elective, a new class offered for the 2022-23 school year. The target is 7th and 8th graders, and Becker’s theme for this class is “It’s okay to be smart.”

The class full of brainiacs (who all happen to be girls this year) pursued all kinds of creative and competitive endeavors, including six eighth graders who presented their air quality research at the GLOBE Student Science Research Symposium at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks on April 24-25.

When Becker received an email asking for entries to the symposium, the due date for submissions had already passed by two days. Since Becker teaches his students to ask questions, “because the worst they can say is no,” the kids asked GLOBE if they could enter the competition anyway. The company agreed, and the students divided into teams and began their projects. Since they were crunched for time, the students used data already collected.

The students submitted their posters and were invited to the University of Alaska to present. But they received only enough money to pay for four students to travel.

Their class began raising money, but they also decided to ask if GLOBE had any extra travel funds “because all they can say is no.” Turns out GLOBE could help them out because another school dropped out. Becker’s advice worked again.

Off they went to Fairbanks, the six students, Becker and math teacher Abigail Detels, who served as a chaperone.

Research Education on Air and Cardiovascular Health (REACH) participants Rayna Tonasket, Kailyn Marengo and Anastasia Hertz impressed judges with their project titled “How’s the Air ‘Round There,” which looked for correlations between the Air Quality Index and populations of all 22 schools present at the symposium.

Meanwhile, Anaka Hardy, April Uhrich and Loren Olson won an award for “Best Project Using Existing Data Sets” for their project titled “The Long & Lat of Humidity,” designed to discover whether a location’s longitude or latitude had a greater effect on its humidity.

While at the symposium, these students were able to participate in several scientific studies as they helped GLOBE and NASA scientists collect snow samples, measure snow accumulation in the field while logging the GPS coordinates, and study snow data from past seasons to help predict when local rivers would “break up” from their winter freezes. They were also able to tour the University of Alaska and the Museum of the North.

After raising $1,300, the girls had some extra money to do something fun so they took a midnight trip out of the city to see the Northern Lights. Even though the weather was cloudy and they didn’t see the aurora borealis, the girls had a great time in the Alaskan countryside.

At the GLOBE Symposium, the students received awards/certificates for the best posters using previously existing data sets.

Ronan was one of only two schools selected from the contiguous United States.

Becker said he likes to see kids reap benefits on the front end so they realize they can continue being successful, and suggests this group of girls will be in the news for years to come.