Elite environment


Zionsville Community High School one of eight schools selected for virtual exchange program

By Dawn Pearson

They may be half a world away – literally – but some key similarities between Boone County and Victoria, Australia, have led to an unlikely opportunity for two groups of high school students to study each other’s water systems.

Zionsville Community High School was one of eight schools in the U.S. to be selected to participate in an environmental exchange program with an Australian school. The USAUS H2O: USA-Australia Virtual Environmental Partnership exists to introduce high school students to important environmental issues on a global scale.

ZCHS has been paired with Notre Dame Academy, which is in an agriculturally-dominated portion of Australia in the watershed of a large river system.

“We wanted a school in the Midwest, also in a temperate region with similar state with agriculture as a main feature nearby,” said Judith O’Neil, a University of Maryland professor who is running the exchange program. “We used contacts we had in Indiana to hone in on a school with an enthusiastic science teacher and supportive school administration.”

In the classroom

The 27 students in Jill Trent’s AP Environmental Science class are participating in the interactive virtual partnership. The program includes six components that include guest speakers, field trips to the White River Water Treatment Plant and Belmont Wastewater Treatment Plant, communication with Australian students through Skype and the creation of a short video.

Trent expects her students to complete the program in May.

“Students are collecting, analyzing and sharing real water data with peers globally and through this collaborative effort,” she said. “We hope to identify factors that will affect the future availability of water.”

Trent learned about the opportunity for her class after a parent brought it to her attention. Students have enjoyed the unique opportunity to learn from peers on the other side of the world.

“This program is a great way to learn about the water that we use every day, as well as a way to learn about the environmental aspect of another country,” junior Alysa Tarrant said. “I’m excited to learn more about the water I drink and how water is managed in Australia.”

In addition to learning about science, O’Neil hopes that students will also gain an appreciation and knowledge of other cultures.

“This program seeks to have the participants expand their computer literacy skills, knowledge of their local as well as national and international water cycles, gain a deeper understanding of the other country’s culture and influence positive change in their communities,” she said.

The big picture

The virtual exchange program is part of a three-year pilot study, which launched in 2013 with funding from the U.S. federal government. The second phase, which is currently underway, is funded through the Australian government. Universities in the U.S. and Australia have also contributed to the program.

In addition to ZCHS, schools in Oregon, California, Louisiana, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey and Maine have been selected to participate in the program. Each school was matched with a school in a similar climate zone in Australia.

According to the project website, the main goal of the project is to educate future leaders and spark an interest in environmental issues. “This is vastly important,” it states, “as this generation will face unique environmental challenges of global significance, including the need to at least double water productivity.”


Learn more about the virtual exchange program at www.usaus-h2o.org.

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