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Middle school students present on responding to smoke events

Hood River Middle School seventh grade science students presented on responding to smoke events on Friday, March 10, in the school library. These presentations served as the culminating activity for the air quality unit of Adam Smith’s class. 

Mr. Smith said, “We breathe about 20,000 times a day on average and the quality of that air matters.” 

He explained that living in a time of increasing wildfire has led to an increase in hazardous smoke events, dramatically increasing various health risks. Mr. Smith asked his students to consider ways to effectively communicate with vulnerable populations such as older adults, pregnant women, youth, individuals with lung or heart issues, and outdoor and farmworkers, to help protect the health and safety of the entire community.

Students received generous support from the Oregon State University (OSU) Extension Office in their research. After working with volunteers from OSU Extension, students acted as designers and science communicators to create various forms of outreach for different audiences. 

Mr. Smith said, “For example, one student may develop a pamphlet to be placed at a doctor’s office for pregnant women to learn, while another student may create a text message alert designed for outdoor or farmworkers to know when the air quality outside is poor.”

As students developed their outreach activities, they focused on using plain language, being trauma-informed, and being actionable. Students developed several rough drafts of their activities and practiced giving each other peer feedback before finalizing their presentations. 

On two prior class visits, Lauren Kraemer, OSU associate professor of practice, taught students about sources of smoke in the Columbia Gorge area. A panel of community health experts listened to the student presentations on outreach activities to support community members on responding to smoke events. In these presentations, students exhibited a depth of knowledge and investment in empathizing with different viewpoints and circumstances. 

Mr. Smith said one of his key takeaways from the activity was the importance of grounding some of the classroom science exploration with tangible action and/or relevant daily activities and circumstances. 

“It was great to bring external stakeholders to give students the sense of an authentic audience,” Mr. Smith added. “We are fortunate to be in a community that supports education and our students.”