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Rivers Curriculum Project

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Published on: Oct. 2, 1995

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

Even when empty of students, Gerry Boehm's science classroom bubbles with life. Aerators gurgle in a half dozen aquariums that hold fish, crawdads, an enormous tadpole and an amphibian called a water dog. A snake sheds its skin in a terrarium by the window.

Color is everywhere: on birdhouses, wasp nests, conservation posters and plants. In the background, a tape of jungle bird songs plays softly. For Francis Howell High School teacher Gerry Boehm, this is science.

Motivational signs peek out from odd places. "There is always room at the top," says a sign on Boehm's cluttered desk. "Successful people form habits of doing things unsuccessful people don't want to," advises another. Over the doorway is the teacher's honest reminder, "Old Age and Treachery Will Overcome Youth and Skill."

The students bring more energy into the room. They wear flannel shirts, blue jean shorts and sandals with socks on this windy April day. Boehm dresses casual too, wearing a sweatshirt with an environmental message.

More an advisor than a lecturer, Boehm greets the students, finds an empty school desk to sit on and passes out copies of USA Today. He points to the front page article, 'Ozone Loss Measured ...'

"Write an essay," Boehm said, "and tell me what UVB rays are and how can they damage DNA and affect plants. Brainstorm. Tell me what can be done to prevent further deterioration. Ozone will be affected for 40 years if we stop making CFCs now. You'll be retired and that baby will still be kicking it out."

The youthful scholars nod solemnly.

"And look at this," Boehm said, passing out copies of a book on car care. "You need to know how to keep your cars running their best."

The class is Environmental Studies, a new kind of science class that combines scientific inquiry with current events, critical thinking, writing, history and social studies. Boehm teaches three periods of this class, along with three other classes of science. After school, he organizes special science club activities and coaches the basketball team. The students call him "Coach."

For Environmental Studies, Boehm has written the curriculum, gathered readings and devised low-budget, high-impact projects. In this class, students are encouraged to observe, study and form opinions about the world of nature. A teacher since 1968, Boehm says this class has reinvigorated him.

Francis Howell High School, near St. Charles, is perfectly placed for such a class. The building adjoins the August A. Busch Memorial

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