Connections That Matter: AP Environmental Science Course Combines College-Prep Curriculum With Real World Experience

New this year to DSHA’s science curriculum, AP Environmental Science is expanding upon concepts students learned previously in their biology and chemistry courses as well as electives such as geology, astronomy, ecology, oceanography, marine science, sustainability, and conservation. Under the direction of faculty Jamie Lemminger, who also serves as the DSHA Science Department chair, over forty students are taking the class, the most currently enrolled in an AP science course. Students are gaining greater insight into how they can maintain God’s creation as well as how they can affect global change.
As a woman who has a hobby and strong passion for environmental sciences, it may come as a surprise that Lemminger initially intended to go into accounting when she began college. But after taking a science elective course at UW-Milwaukee, she found that she was interested in pursuing science instead.
“I took a science course with a professor who was phenomenal,” Lemminger says. “She reminded me how much I really like science. Between all of the professors I met and the research opportunities I had, I realized where my passion was.”
After being a tutor in both high school and college, Lemminger knew she enjoyed teaching.
“My husband told me I should shadow a high school teacher and maybe teach at the high-school level,” she says.
She did field work at the Milwaukee Academy of Math and Science before teaching at Marquette University High School for five years. She then came to DSHA and has found that she relates so well to her students in the all-girls environment.
“I see a lot of myself in them in terms of how they feel about themselves in this stage of life,” Lemminger says. “In high school, I felt lost in a sense –– I knew what I liked but didn’t have a focus. I want to help the girls find what they are most passionate about.
“The reason why I’m here is because of the girls. They give me a lot of feedback, and they work really hard and care a lot. Helping these girls realize their potential and feel confident in themselves is important. To help them work through some of that is what is so special about this job.”
With semester-long environmental science classes already in place, having a year-long course with in-depth focus that would cover more aspects of the same subject was under consideration for a while before DSHA added it to the course offerings.
“We saw a need for a college-level AP course for students who have little interest in other course offerings but still wanted a rigorous academic class with the ability to get some college credits.”
“Fundamentally, Jamie believes that all students can achieve at a higher level,” Principal Dan Quesnell says. “With greater awareness and attention needed for God’s gift of this Earth, Jamie, with support from her department colleagues, initiated the addition of AP Environmental Science as a way to engage any student in exploring the challenges facing our environment.”
As with all new undertakings, designing the course has not been without its trials.
“Finding the right mix is challenging,” Lemminger says. “I have a wide range of skill sets in the class. Finding the right balance of what students can handle and what they are interested in –– this has been by far the biggest challenge.”
Advanced placement courses require teachers and students to cover many subjects in a brief amount of time. Students who have previously taken environmental science classes spent a semester learning about one subject, whereas in this course, they only spend two to three weeks learning about it.
“Trying to make sure the material is covered in enough depth that the students understand and feel prepared for the AP test is difficult,” Lemminger says. “We’re following the AP curriculum, and because it moves so fast, there are a lot of expectations about making connections. This is how students at a higher-level think; this is what college is like.”
Getting outside of the classroom and going into nature is an integral part of teaching students the lessons they are learning. For students in AP Environmental Science, they have worked with the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District to
test the waters in the Milwaukee River Watershed by collecting data.
“We took eight students for training, and they collected water samples and analyzed their results,” Lemminger says. “It’s just a matter of understanding how to do it. Some of the students really loved the hands-on real world experience.”
“I learn so much from these experiences. Although sometimes the future of Earth’s ecosystems seems bleak due to impacts caused by humans, I feel hopeful. This course has taught me how to care for the Earth in what seems to be small but impactful ways,” Lucy Radocha, DSHA ’20, says. “I am excited to share the knowledge I have gained in this course to help others understand how they can help the environment, too.”
As students are making connections between the subject matter and the world around them, they are also connecting to previous and concurrent coursework. And the more connections, the greater the impact.
“A few students have been really interested in conservation efforts,” Lemminger says. “Learning about how they connect to the environment and the big picture has helped them see where they fit. Hearing what they can do has really pulled them in. For example, we’ve done water calculators, and they can’t believe they’re using so much water. They talk with their friends and parents about these issues and it's already making a difference.”
“Students’ grandchildren might not know what a lion or a giraffe is,” Lemminger adds. “Students ask if that’s going to happen, and it very well could. That’s why policies and conservation efforts are so important. There’s real evidence that these things are happening, and I want them to see this evidence and trust that it’s real. How we solve these problems is where the debate needs to be.”
The connections have not only occurred between this course, their “real” life, and other science courses but also across other departments, as well. Many of the students in Lemminger’s AP course have also taken (or are currently taking) AP Human Geography via the DSHA Social Studies Department. The correlations between the two courses tie together as students learn how environmental changes affect habitats and lead to migration –– amongst not only animals but humans, as well.
“I have been surprised by how many factors of our lives are affected by the environment, but I have also been surprised by how many aspects of the environment have been altered by humans throughout the course of history,” Radocha says. “I never realized the various ways in which everything we do in our daily lives has major impacts on ecosystems near us.”
    • DSHA Science Department Chair and AP Environmental Science teacher Jamie Lemminger is dedicated to helping girls find their passions.

    • Students taking AP Environmental Science gain greater insight into how they can maintain God's creation as well as how they can affect global change.

    • The AP Environmental Science course allows students to get out into the field and collect data.


No comments have been posted

Divine Savior Holy Angels High School

Sponsored by the Sisters of the Divine Savior
© 2017 Divine Savior Holy Angels High School. All Rights Reserved