Improving the world with biology
Jac Cummings has taught biology at Marysville High School for 34 years and advanced biology for 19 years. His last AdvBio class was supposed to be in 2008, but a group of MHS students persuaded him to teach another class for the 2010-2011 school year.
A closer look at the class's syllabus demonstrates the reason for such enthusiasm from the students. Cummings starts with an emphasis on the awareness of environmental problems, the "evils" of corn, methods of the disposal of garbage and water treatment processes. This may seem like it has nothing to do with biology, but it does.
"Biology is the science of life. The biosphere is the whole Earth and all the life on it. Biology and biosphere. Life and life," Cummings clarified. "Get it?"
The class has already taken three field trips: to the Riverhill Farm in Nevada City, to the Recology Yuba-Sutter transfer station and to the Yuba City water treatment plant. "The field trips provide a lot of insight of what we really do to our world," explained Elyssia Niswonger, 11.
Alan Haight and Jo McProud, founders of the Riverhill Farm, base it on community-supported agriculture (CSA). They organically grow fruits and vegetables to provide healthy choices for their community and environment.
"I moved to Nevada County in 2000 as a landscape contractor. But I decided my real love was farming," Haight said. "It wasn't a difficult choice for me to go organic."
Haight's 10-acre farm is tended very carefully; they pay close attention to the nutrients and subtle changes of the soil. Annie Lin, a junior, said, "The strawberries and tomatoes made me feel like I died and went to heaven."
Maggie Johnson, environmental compliance and safety manager at the Recology Yuba-Sutter station, gave Cummings' class a tour of the grounds of the transfer station. "This isn't a 'dump'," she clarified. "What we do here is a good thing for our community."
Johnson guided the class through the station's different sections: sorting, green waste, tipping, grinding, compost and hazardous. "Seeing these piles of trash is a tangible form of all the pollutants and greenhouse gases in the air," she observed.
"The neat, powerful, thing about this," Cummings said, "is being able to take really bright and capable kids and letting them learn how science, technology and the real world work together ... and hopefully seeing them apply that knowledge."
What MHS students like so much about the advanced biology class is that its focus isn't just on cells, organs or bookwork, but on the life of our planet. It introduces methods to stop global warming, disease, the depletion of water, animal and environmental cruelty and the induction of waste. Advanced biology provides upperclassmen with an opportunity to discover the bad of the world and to take the initiative to make it better.
Chynna Martinez is a senior at Marysville High School. Her column appears every six weeks in Education.