Armed with a squeegee and a box of gravel, sand and water, a team of Baton Rouge Magnet High School students are making Louisiana’s coastal erosion problem come to life for younger children.
Members of the school’s environmental science club have spent their free time educating kids at area elementary schools about the ways the Gulf of Mexico is eating away the state’s land.
“This truly does hit home,” said Laurie Font, their teacher and club sponsor. “This is something they face. You can go see the coastal erosion. We’ve talked about it in class. I think it’s a very important issue.”
Last month, they were handsomely rewarded — each of the five team members got $1,400 — when the team was chosen as a finalist in the Lexus Eco Challenge, a contest that charges high school students to create educational programs on environmental problems facing their community. The team of Arvind Nandakumar, 17; Ember Siegmund, 17; Monika Karki, 18; Dana Chen, 17; and Maedeh Marzoughi, 17, will compete in the finals against 15 other teams later this month.
Coastal erosion was a topic the students had heard about all their lives. In school, they had repeatedly heard the statistics — Louisiana loses on average a football field every hour, some 1,900 square miles since 1930.
For the project, the team had to find a way to address the issue, then track its success.
A key part of the project was a small coastal erosion model created by Nandakumar, or the “building genius,” as the rest of the team calls him.
His creation models the effect of waves and water lapping against the land. Built in a plastic tub, one end of the model is sand and gravel. At the other end is water that, when pushed with a squeegee, wears away the land one wave at a time.
Nandakumar designed it as a freshman.
“It was an original idea,” he said, “but then I looked it up online and other people were doing it, so it wasn’t so original.”
“The design was pretty unique,” added Siegmund.
In their presentations at elementary schools and environmental science events, the club gave a lesson before discussing the history of land loss and what it will take to reverse the trend.
“We did teach the kids that if their generation didn’t change their ways and make more of an effort to save the coast, we’re kind of doing the same thing (as previous generations). We’re losing the coast really quickly,” Siegmund said. “We’re trying to go off of what we tell them and just simple ways you can prevent it.”
While much has been made about the lack of women working in science, engineering and math fields, four of the five environmental science team members are young women. They say they’ve never felt out of place in the world of science, a sign of progress, Karki said.
“I think it’s definitely getting better,” she said. “They have a lot of new programs introducing girls to engineering, and colleges go out of their way to brings girls to the subject. It’s definitely more friendly to go into it now.”
Next week the team will finish their project for the Lexus Eco Challenge finals — planting trees in St. Bernard Parish to help protect the land against storm surge. They will create a video to document the work for the contest.
Font expects the team to place well again.
“This is the brightest of the bright at Baton Rouge High,” she said.