Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Student, Teacher Picked for Arctic Circle Study Program

JASON Learning 2017 National Argonauts
Stephanie Ogden and Grace Gabriel display Chevron JASON Learning backpacks they will use near the Arctic Circle this summer.

High school junior Grace Gabriel and science teacher Stephanie Ogden are flying to the edge of the Arctic Circle to help measure how global warming is impacting far northern wetlands, insects and related wildlife.

In May, Spring Branch ISD held surprise announcements naming the two as 2017 Jason Argonauts. Supported by the science education organization Jason Learning, Gabriel and Ogden will travel Monday to the Churchill Northern Studies Centre in Manitoba, Canada.

The research center is located in Churchill, a tiny town on the Hudson Bay famous for its polar bear sightings every fall. SBISD’s two-person team will join scientists and other regional Argonauts there for 10 days.

Science Director Donald Burken with student Grace Gabriel during surprise announcement

Gabriel, an incoming junior at Spring Woods High School, is interested in biology. She i thinking about becoming a physician’s assistant or scientific researcher. She also swims backstroke, edits the campus yearbook, and is active in her Episcopal church and congregation.
“I’m really excited,” she says of the Churchill summer trip. “I’m partially still in a state of shock. It has not sunk in yet that I’m traveling to northern Canada in a few days. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me.”

Science Director Donald Burken with teacher Stephanie Ogden
A pre-Advanced Placement (AP) chemistry teacher at Northbrook High, Ogden is a Texas A&M University graduate who has taught Raiders for four years. She has taught summer school this month and is a district chemistry curriculum writer.

An outdoors-loving person, Ogden is truly upbeat about splashing around the cool wetlands decked out in neoprene waders and net-protective headgear, scooping up bugs and insects for later studies.

“My hope is to come back with incredible science and adventure stories for all my students that helps spark learning inside the classroom,” she says. “I want to make chemistry more real life and show students that there are real-life occupations and careers in science that are available to them today and in the future.”

Chevron sponsors the JASON Learning program and Argonaut summer learning and research trips for selected students and educators in more than 10 Houston-area school districts. The corporation pays all travel expenses, as well as lodging, food, programming and equipment costs.

Since its creation in 1990, the JASON National Argonaut Program has provided hands-on, scientific fieldwork to more than 500 students and educators globally. SBISD was the first public school district in this area to join JASON as a partner district.

“Our Argonaut program connects students and educators with real scientists to teach and inspire a love of exploration and inquiry. It promotes confidence and develops leadership skills,” states Dr. Eleanor Smalley, chief operating officer of JASON, in a recent press release.

Twenty-two students and teachers from the Houston region will take part JASON Learning projects this summer. Argonauts Gabriel and Ogden will hike into the wetlands outside Churchill to work with visiting and research scientists on data related to climate change, including tree line growth and insect or related wildlife specimen collection.

The Churchill Northern Studies Centre was formed to establish an environmental monitoring program to collect baseline data on climate-related changes in northern ecosystems. Scientists find that Churchill has warmed 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit since record keeping began in the 1880s, with about 75 percent of that increase occurring since 1980.

The border of the northern, or circumboreal, tree line is determined by temperature. Wetlands make up about 40 percent of the Hudson Bay landscape.

For the trip, Gabriel and Ogden had to be prepared to hike up to 3 miles with a 30-pound pack and sign a release in the unexpected event of a polar bear attack. Plane travel is the only way to get into Churchill. The town has no supporting network of roads.

“I am interested in actually seeing the tree line,” Gabriel says. “People know about the Arctic, but they don’t really know a lot about the environment there. I want to bring what I learn back to Spring Woods High.”

Ogden is inspired by an awesome JASON Learning curriculum and its supporting materials, including online videos and program website. She has also worked with NASA’s High School Aerospace Scholars, a weeklong experience, and believes it creates incredible student engagement and interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.

“A single week can be a pivotal experience and change a student’s life. It can be a moment in time that student will remember for life, and that’s great,” Ogden says.

Both Gabriel and Ogden applied to be JASON Argonauts. Gabriel first heard about the program as a student at Westchester Academy for International Studies (WAIS) when early student Argonauts spoke about their experiences.

“I thought it sounded exciting then, but it slipped to the back of my mind,” she recalls. “I gave it a shot. The worst they could do is turn me down.”

Her mom, Michelle Gabriel, is an assistant principal at Cedar Brook Elementary.

Ogden’s choice was unexpected and left her overwhelmed, she says. She is excited and honored to represent SBISD. In all, six students and teachers from the Houston region will be in Churchill together in the days ahead.

In May, SBISD’s K-12 Science Director Donald Burken visited Northbrook and Spring Woods high schools to make the surprise announcements.


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