An experience that spans the curriculum

Middle school health students tackle environmental issues via business letters.

By PAULETTE LASH RITCHIE, Times Correspondent
Published January 17, 2008


The sixth- to eighth-grade students in Benecio Martinez's health classes at West Hernando Middle School have worked since August, often on their own time, on a range of environmental issues.

With the term complete, their parents visited the classroom recently as the students showcased their efforts. Along with a mountain of materials the students gathered that covered four tables, the students shared information with their parents through a question and answer session.

"Where are the manatees, most of them?" one parent asked of a student who had studied them. "In the water," she answered amid chuckles from the audience. "Weeki Wachee," she clarified.

"What was your favorite part (of the assignment)?" another parent asked. "Getting correspondence after writing letters," a student responded.

"Do you think you'll use this (information) in the future?" asked another parent.

"Yes," the student replied. "I'm running for president."

And so concluded an innovative class lesson that began with a simple task: learning how to write a business letter.

Martinez had the students bring examples of formal letters to class, then the students looked them over to find a good template.

Using that example letter, the students wrote to agencies including the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the Environmental Protection Agency, Mote Marine Laboratory, NASA, the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Marine Mammal Commission.

The responses were impressive and filled two large notebooks of correspondence that were displayed for the parents, along with many brochures, pamphlets and magazines the students received.

Working in groups, the children tackled subjects including endangered species, forestry and conservation.

Eighth-graders Ashley Lawler, 14, Stephanie Crespo, 13, and Courtney Truesdale, 14, worked together on endangered species. "We learned mostly that there's a lot of endangered species and we need to start taking care of things and not taking them for granted," Ashley said.

Courtney and Ashley researched manatees, while Stephanie looked at owls. "When they lay their eggs," Stephanie said, recalling an interesting nugget from her research, "they usually drop them on the floor."

Eighth-grader Luis Flores, 14, drew posters, some of which decorated the showcase. "I learned a lot about extinct animals," said Luis, who researched forestry and endangered species. "I learned about NASA. I learned a lot about the reefs and the Red Tide."

Carman Crespo, Stephanie's mother, was impressed with what the children had accomplished. "It's important," she said, "because we have to teach the children about the importance of the environment, to avoid diseases and to save our animals, the endangered species."

Martinez pointed out to the visitors how hard his health students had worked on this long-term project, which included science, health and writing.

"I believe in teaching across the curricula," he said. "A lot of education went on with this. I'm very proud of the kids."