Huntington Beach High School's Scientific Research Program has won a prestigious statewide award for its innovative curriculum.
Teacher Ken Ostrowski accepted the California School Boards Association Golden Bell Award earlier this month at a ceremony in San Francisco.
The program is not an average science class. There are experiments and tests but everything that is accomplished must first be dreamed up, executed then analyzed by the 140 students in the program.
"We are having great success," Ostrowski said. "Some of the work we are doing is being seen as equal to what kids do as juniors in college."
The program has many facets and many options for students to explore. Most of the teens are in advanced placement environmental science classes while others are members of the science and math competition teams.
As part of the award-winning program, some students chose to get certified in scuba diving and study the marine biology off Catalina Island. Others studied the forest and came up with theories they tested in Yosemite National Park.
The program also has a sustainable aspect in which students participate in the class' abalone or white sea bass project.
The class partners with Nancy Caruso of the nonprofit Get Inspired! to raise abalone and white sea bass in the classroom and then release them into the ocean.
"The whole point of all of this is for these students to have a stake in the future of the ocean," Caruso said.
The Scientific Research Program started eight years ago; this is the first time it has been honored with the Golden Bell.
"We just kind of said 'yes' to everything," Ostrowski said. "And we said, 'Let's make it cool.' "
The program has morphed and branched off into other endeavors for students who are enthusiastic about science, he said.
In addition to the research part of the class, there are academic competitions that revolve around environmental science. Next year Huntington Beach High will host a Science Competition Camp for junior high students.
Students at Huntington Beach High will breed and nurture green abalone to later release in the ocean as part of a sustainability project in the Scientific Research Program.
Green abalone, a threatened species, is a sea snail that is generally found along the Pacific Coast in shallow waters.
Students in the course are responsible for monitoring the water in the abalone tank and eventually spawning the species to create baby abalone, a difficult and intricate process, students say.
Nicholas Hardy, 17, will be responsible for hatching the baby abalone, which are microscopic for several weeks.
"Only about 2 or 3 percent make it to adulthood," he said. "Right now, I'm just hoping I can spawn them correctly."
Nicholas, along with several other students, is responsible for checking the water's pH balance and feeding the abalone.
"Nobody is saving (the abalone)," said Nancy Caruso, founder of Get Inspired!. "So I thought, let's grow them in schools."
This will be the first year the program has a permit to release the abalone back into the ocean, Caruso added.
Getting certified in open water scuba diving is an added perk to taking the Catalina course that encourages students to test various hypotheses about the ocean environment.
Patrick Donegan, 17, and his group participated in several dives to collect research to compare the ocean's sandy bottom to the kelp forests found off the Catalina coast.
"We took ropes and made squares along the bottom of the ocean and measured the number of species in that square," Patrick said. "We found the kelp forest is slightly more diverse than the sandy bottom."
Teacher Carissa Rice went along with the students for the course and also got her certification in scuba diving.
"It was great. We saw some amazing stuff," she said. "This (program) is not just, 'we're asking you to do this' but 'we're going to do it with you.' "
Patrick and the other students will also present their findings at the March event.
Yosemite National Park
Noel Trivedi, 17, was among the students who picked the forest as their environment of choice to come up with an original hypothesis and test a theory.
Noel and his group studied how saplings are affected in an area disturbed by human or other activity.
"We would hike every day and the real stuff was done on the trail," Noel said.
Other hypothesis tested on the trip included studying animal diversity in certain areas of Yosemite National Park and gauging the streams that run in the area.
Noel and the other students will analyze their data and later create a poster to present their findings to their teachers and the science community at an event at the school in March.
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