Students' research on Portland air quality earns kudos, King visit

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PORTLAND — The accomplishments of 85 seventh-graders at King Middle School were celebrated Oct. 24 with an award from the American Lung Association and a visit by U.S. Sen. Angus King.

The students’ project, which was completed during the spring semester of their sixth-grade year, evaluated air quality throughout the city and applied skills from five areas of study. It also included a presentation to lawmakers in Augusta, science teacher Ruth MacLean said.

In two instances, students flew a kite to collect air-quality data from the skies above the city.

The students were looking for particulate matter – sand and carbon – which was found at all locations, particularly at elevations of 15 feet or below

Students collected the data during science class, researched the history of the Clean Air Act during social studies, wrote persuasive essays on the importance of clean air legislation during language arts class, graphed their data during computer class and interpreted the graphs in math class, MacLean said.

Afterward, the students condensed the project into a pamphlet that they presented to legislators.

The American Lung Association in Maine joined the project early on, at MacLean’s request. The association was key in getting the students an audience at the Statehouse.

“They arranged the time and date for us to be in Augusta, to talk to the legislators in support of their ongoing efforts to keep the Clean Air Act from getting gutted,” MacLean said.

Matthew Sturgis, chairman of the American Lung Association in Maine, presented the students with the Healthy Air Leadership Award last week in the school library.

“To understand the information that you’ve brought forward, and to apply the science that you’re learning, is going to set you up for so many great things in life,” Sturgis said. “You are on the path to accomplish great things.”

Seventh-grader Gwen Carhart said the project was valuable and she was surprised by the amount of particulates in the air. She was also surprised to win an award and garner so much attention.

“I think it’s really cool. The teachers never thought it would go this far. It’s really amazing. It was an amazing experience,” she said.

King, who arrived to star-struck stares from the children, held a wide-ranging question-and-answer period, including discussions on the state’s laptop computer program for students, life in Washington, D.C., a primer on civics, and more. Later, he joined students on the turf field to fly the data-collecting kite.

At one point, King held a globe and presented the children with a lesson in proportions.

“The thickness of the coat of varnish on this globe, is the same proportion to the globe as the real atmosphere is to the planet,” he said. “The atmosphere isn’t very thick and we can mess it up.”

Ben McCanna can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow him on Twitter: @BenMcCanna.

Sidebar Elements

U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, takes questions from seventh-graders Oct. 24 at King Middle School in Portland during a discussion about air quality. The students were celebrated for their research on air quality last spring, and received the Healthy Air Leadership Award from the American Lung Association.

U.S. Sen. Angus King flies a research kite Thursday, Oct. 24, at on the turf field at King Middle School. King’s visit coincided with 85 seventh-graders winning the Healthy Air Leadership Award from the American Lung Association in Maine for their research on air quality in Portland last spring. The students sampled air quality throughout the city with the use of a kite.

Map of Portland locations where King Middle School students sampled air quality.