Walking under the tall, towering oaks with their budding leaves, you smell the smell of spring, the smell of mud and new things growing, and you remember the warmth of spring after a long, cold winter.
These words mimic an introduction to an article about the Finger Lakes. What makes them so extraordinary, however, is that they were written by a 13-year-old – Charlotte Mineo of Marcus Whitman Middle School.
For their community research project this year, Nicole Green’s eighth grade English classes looked through past issues of Life in the Finger Lakes, and discussed possible topics that could fall underneath that umbrella. “For the past two or three years, the English department has decided to model this project off the magazine,” says Green. “Honestly, I think it’s one of the best projects we do here at the Marcus Whitman Middle School.”
Students can choose any topic from the Finger Lakes Region – the outdoors, local businesses and even wine if it’s what they want to learn about it. Once a topic is chosen, students go through the process of a research project: they learn to utilize books and the Internet; work to understand the point of having multiple sources and integrate them into their story; and employ social skills by conducting a phone interview with an expert on their topic.
“We make sure students know they have to get out into the community to interview someone for this project,” says Green. “Some of them get really nervous about it, but in the end they love the project. They choose their own topic. They decide what to focus on. They come up with their own questions and their own thesis statements based upon what they find in their research. Anytime you can give kids that kind of ownership, they buy into it.”
To market we go
Eighth grader Nolan Yarger chose to write about a Finger Lakes business, one that is renowned for its fresh and local produce – Wegmans. “I feel the project helped me improve as a writer, but what I learned about most was Wegmans as a company,” he told me. “They do some really great things. I liked discovering that on my own, and being able to relay that information back to my classmates.”
Wegmans has been constantly changing and improving since it began in 1916, reads Nolan’s article, “Wegmans: Setting the Standards High, and Keeping the Prices Low.” Among these changes were refrigerated display windows and water sprays to keep food fresh, both of which were introduced in 1932. The article continues by delving into the company’s reputation for treating customers and employees with the utmost respect, as well as its community outreach programs.
“I really liked doing the interview with the person I got the information from,” explains Nolan. “It taught me a lot about social skills. I had to prepare questions for it, and sometimes I had to come up with new questions right on the spot. It was challenging, but I liked doing it.”
Put some muscle into it
The whistle blows, and the athlete leaps into the water. He is surrounded by many others, all swimming different strokes at different speeds. He swims slowly, conserving his energy. He knows that after his swim, he will have to trade his wetsuit, swim cap, and goggles for a pair of sneakers and a helmet and hop on his bike. He’ll ride for a while, and then he’ll start to run.
The introduction of Samantha Abel’s article describes what’s become an annual summer pastime in the Finger Lakes – the Musselman Triathlon in Geneva, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary this year. “My dad competes in the Musselman, and I have done the MusselKids race before,” explains Samantha. “I really liked it, and I knew it was a great event that was unique to the area.”
The article, “The Musselman: Shut Up and Tri It,” details the history of the triathlon, the distinctness of the Musselman, and its focus on safety, the environment and the community.
“I loved learning how to format things for a magazine article,” says Samantha. “Most of the time, we are writing essays, which aren’t meant to be read by a normal audience. It was nice being able to write to a general audience.”
In the land we trust
“I didn’t realize that having a land trust here was that important,” admits Chris Chermak, who chose to cover the Finger Lakes Land Trust for his project. “I think a lot of people look at the Finger Lakes Region and wish they lived here. I think that, sometimes, we take it for granted.” Chris’s article discusses Andrew Zep’s development of the land trust, and how it educates the community and protects local ecosystems.
The actions that the Finger Lakes Land Trust takes now can protect species native to the region, its ecosystems and the beautiful landscapes within it. This is why many people have joined the land trust, to preserve these lands and to help benefit the community.
Not only has this project helped Chris sharpen his writing skills, but it’s given him a new appreciation for the Finger Lakes Region as a whole. “After doing this project, I don’t take the Finger Lakes, my home, for granted anymore.”
To see young teens grasp and relish a project about their home is truly inspiring, notes Green, who clearly has a passion herself about the area in which she lives. “The changing of the seasons, the lakes, the way of life around here and all of the things you can do outdoors – it’s gorgeous. I think it’s the most beautiful area in the world.”
by Alyssa LaFaro