Students use math skills to build bridge, trail

Posted June 17, 2009, at 11:36 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — Sixth-grade mathematics students from Troy Howard Middle School are working on a service learning project aimed at providing a habitat for bees, building a bridge over a small stream, blazing a trail and marking the school’s boundary.

Teacher Glenn Widmer’s 16-pupil class began the project three weeks ago and were far enough along Wednesday to take parents on a tour of the site and explain how the plan helps to accomplish their goals.

Widmer said the class used its math skills to map the trail’s direction, to design and construct a log bridge across a small stream, to identify the school’s property boundary, and to plant flowers and shrubs to attract bees.

“I tried to fit the math in as much as possible, but I’ll admit that with the bees it was a hard stretch,” Widmer said with a laugh during Wednesday’s tour.

Widmer added that teacher Helen Nichols’ bee project seemed an ideal fit for the group because the entire class wanted to take up the cause of bees after learning about colony collapse disorder during a field trip to beekeeper Marsha Gardner’s Swanville hives.

As Sarah Berry, Madison Pickering and Grace Bagley explained to the parents, the collapse disorder has had a devastating effect on bees across the country. Stress, pesticides and herbicides are believed to be the cause of the problem, in which millions of bees have disappeared. The middle school has a greenhouse and garden, and the class decided that plants that attract bees would not only boost their population but also help with pollination.

The class planted sunflowers, wintergreen, roses, marjoram, basil, sage, chives, bee balm and other plants and shrubs to attract the bees. Bagley said bees are fond of bright colors and sweet smelling plants and the class made sure to plant more than enough “to make them feel comfy.”

Bridge builders Jacki Flagg, Bryton Cook, Victoria Stover and Savannah Quattromani said that once Mr. Widmer cut the three black cherry logs to span the stream, they cut 5-foot-long pieces of alder for the bridge deck. The bridge is on a trail behind the school that leads to the Waldo County YMCA, and when completed walkers will arrive at the Y with dry shoes.

The students have already completed a short trail that bisects the dirt road around the school’s athletic fields but have more ambitious plans to extend the trail from the school to the University of Maine Hutchinson Center. When completed, the trail will link up with the Belfast Bay Watershed Coalition’s five-mile Little River Trail. The class has already mapped the trail, but the project is on hold pending approval from Bank of America to cross its property.

“We’re just waiting for their legal people to give us permission,” Widmer said. “We’ll hopefully get it done next year.”

wgriffin@bangordailynews.net

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