Saving Virginia’s Ecosystem

Saving Virginia’s Ecosystem

Today’s youth are part of Virginia’s rising population, so it seems fitting that they investigate how this increased growth impacts the state’s ecosystem. That was the task given to 47 students of Centreville elementary fourth-grade teachers Mary Ann Settlemyre and Kate Charlton.

Last summer, both teachers took the month-long VISTA (Virginia Initiative for Science Teaching and Achievement) program at GMU. It trains teachers in new science strategies and ideas to use in their classrooms to bring real science to their students.

Settlemyre and Charlton then challenged their students to find solutions for the adverse impacts of Virginia’s population growth. They divided into groups, chose a problem to pursue and, later, in front of their classmates, parents and two program mentors, they presented what they’d learned and their solutions.


The INSANE group represented Interesting Nitrates and Students Amazed by Nutrient Education. Max OngaNana and Julie Guillen did a PowerPoint presentation telling what nitrates and watersheds are. They said nitrates act as fertilizer for plants in water.

Evelyn Armstrong told what foods leave the smallest carbon footprint. She also said people should grow and eat more of these foods, use organic fertilizers and reduce erosion.

Peter No took a water sample from the Potomac River and measured its amount of nitrites, and he and Andy Kim showed a poster about watersheds. “Any pollutants in the runoff from impervious surfaces reduce the water quality downstream,” said Peter. They also discussed nitrite sources coming from people in the foods they eat and the way they fertilize their land.


The CLEAN group stood for Clean Land Exactly As New. They said the world would be cleaner if people picked up trash and recycled and bicycled, carpooled or walked, instead of driving cars. They also said people should use reusable bags and bottles and keep the lakes, ponds and natural habitats clean.

The students talked, as well, about what products are made from recycled items and where recycled things go. And they said it’s important to be good stewards of the land because “the more people that come, it could lead to more pollution and global warming.”


The ACRE group represented Awesome Car and Road Education. Jonathan King and Tre Ridgway-Davis made a photo story about the history of cars. “The exhaust pipe is the real problem,” said Tre. “Years from now, there’ll be no ozone layer, if things keep going this way.”

So eight students designed a six-person, flying car called the ACRE 6.8. Showing their model, Adam Fritsche said it’s lightweight and aerodynamic. “It also has a bird barrier — a bad smell birds won’t like — to keep them away and not hurt them,” he said. “If we had flying cars, we could stop using fossil fuels, we wouldn’t need roads and the animals could have their homes back.”

To reduce carbon in the ecosystem, explained Adam, “It flies on solar power and always has a full tank of energy because it stores its solar power for use, even at night, or in cloudy or rainy weather.”

“So our solution is to make a new kind of car,” said Carson Kaiser. “And the more people you have, the higher you’d be allowed to fly, so it also encourages people to carpool.”


Standing for Fuel Incorporated Realistic Experts, the FIRE group noted the different kinds of energy people use today. The students also made a model of a solar-powered pump to use water from a lake, river, stream or watershed — plus wind and the sun for energy — to create hydroelectric power, wind energy and solar power.

“There could also be underground water sources it could use,” said Aaron Alexander. “As more people come to Virginia, we use more energy, so this is a way to make more without putting more carbon into the atmosphere.”


The RUDE group stood for Reducing the Use of Destructive Excess. The members proposed only using electronics a certain amount of time each day; recycling; no longer cutting down trees, thereby saving birds and plants; using bikes instead of cars for short distances; and using only eco-friendly vehicles.

Since artificial lights produce carbon, they proposed limiting the amount of time they could be used each day, and using the sun, instead. They also said carbon-producing Styrofoam lunch trays should be made of something else.


Representing Structure United Nation, SUN members said people should build houses taller, skinnier and closer together than now to take up less space. They also said homes should be built from things other than trees.

For energy, they’d use Energy Star-rated generators, solar panels and a small, hydroelectric power plant. That way, there’d be extra room for the ecosystem, plants and animals.


The STOP group stood for Spreading The Overgrowing Population. Since more than 8 million people live in Virginia, these students proposed a totally new method of transportation. It had people using solar-powered jetpacks in the air to travel to and from their houses, schools, restaurants, stores, airports, etc.

They’d create a gravitational plate in the bottom of buildings so that the jetpacks wouldn’t jettison their wearers into outer space. Farms and factories would stay on the ground, and schools would have force fields around them to keep students and teachers in them.