Photo by: Tara Champion

Hicklin Lake: Living science lab

By Ann Kendall

“There is certain awesomeness to afterschool science,” says one student while from another, “Instead of just studying about science, we’re doing science.” These voices fill Anna Kramer’s classroom at Cascade Middle School after school several days a week where 18 female students gather as part of the Science STARS (students tackling authentic and relevant science) program. For these young women, the windows of Ms. Kramer’s classroom offer a view of their living experiment, the adjacent Hicklin Lake.

Sara Hagenah, a PhD candidate at the University of Washington, a professor at Antioch University and a former middle school science teacher leads Science STARS at Cascade under the purview of Highline’s Community Schools Collaboration. Cascade science teacher Anna Kramer, Jessica Thompson from the University of Washington and Liz Savage from Health Sciences and Human Services High School (HS3) next door round out the team each week. Funded through the National Science Foundation, STARS emphasizes the importance of hands-on science for urban teen girls by focusing on their local environments as laboratories.

At the beginning of the year, the girls chose Hicklin Lake to explore and examine due to its proximity to school; one student pointed out to staff that, “Hicklin Lake was the first lake I ever saw.” With the program’s emphasis on how women scientists can change their own environments, the lake provides the ideal science and community lab setting. STARS is self-selected by participants – if they are interested in science, they just sign up at the beginning of the year; there are no tests, no entrance exams – just pure interest. Joined by several University of Washington mentors as well as several near-peers from HS3, each meeting of STARS begins informally, often with pizza and snacks so that everyone can take an afterschool breather. Many of the girls feel like STARS has created a special family for them, a group of friends they look forward to seeing where they can talk about the higher concepts of algae blooms and with whom they can share typical middle school stories. Fun aside, each girl commits to a full year of the program.

The culmination of the program will be a documentary film. Each week’s discussions are meticulously recorded by local videographer Tara Champion; right now students are assisting her in editing footage in preparation for the big night. The film covers the journey of Hicklin Lake from a safe place to swim 50 years ago to its high phosphorous concentrations and the recent installation of floating islands that will hopefully clean its waters. STARS students will detail in the documentary the science behind the changes and their effects on the surrounding park and community – and most importantly, why the changes are serious concerns. Exploring science is just one aspect of the program; in preparation for the film students are working with their mentors on the art for posters, messaging and community outreach. Their initial poster encourages the community to, “Be inspired as we show you how science can make a difference – personally, locally and globally.”
Documentary film debut Apr. 15 at 6:30pm at Highline Performing Arts Center 401 S 152nd St, Burien.

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