Letter - Wa-Hi science classrooms inadequate and unsafe

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The shocking and tragic landslide at Oso last week reminds us that we, as a society, need geologists and engineers to evaluate, inform and plan to help our cities and towns grow safely.

Jobs in geology and engineering include traditional oil, gas and ore exploration, as well as seeking safe water supplies, studying soil health, designing landfills, and siting buildings, bridges, tunnels, highways and even vineyards.

These are careers that interested children of the Walla Walla Valley should pursue and which we, as citizens, depend on them pursuing.

As a geology professor, I teach college students interested in these careers. I am increasingly concerned about the poor preparation in high school chemistry and physics that incoming students have, so I welcome the news that the state has approved a requirement that students take an additional year of science in high school.

Every fall I administer a brief questionnaire to help my students identify how they learn best. Overwhelmingly, geology students show a preference for kinesthetic learning. They — like my two sons at Berney Elementary — learn best by doing. Learning science well, learning to be a scientist, learning to understand the information — like warnings of landslide danger given by scientists — requires doing effective experiments in laboratory classes.

Two nights ago, I toured the science classrooms at Wa-Hi for the first time. Although I am impressed at the heroic efforts that staff and students engage in daily, these classrooms are inadequate and unsafe learning environments.

My list of concerns is long: Ungrounded outlets are next to sinks at science stations. Tables too small for activities and walkways that prevent teachers from answering student questions one-on-one. No ceiling mounted sprinklers for fire safety. The only ventilation duct in the chemistry stockroom is highly corroded. I, who have mild asthma, had trouble breathing for the rest of the evening after this tour. The list is long indeed.

This bond requires a financial sacrifice from all of us, and I understand that is unappealing. This bond is a worthwhile and manageable sacrifice. It is our responsibility to care for our children.

It is our responsibility to decide to invest in our Valley. It is our responsibility to prepare for our shared future. The landslide at Oso shows us the high stakes of being unprepared. Physics, chemistry, biology and geology are all required to understand and prepare for future natural disasters.

Kirsten Nicolaysen

Walla Walla

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