The future is in their hands.
And they are learning some pretty dramatic facts about environmental damage from longtime science teacher, Karl Bradley, at RS Central.
Maybe they will lead us to a cleaner, healthier future.
Bradley calls them, "among the most courteous, hard working groups of students I have ever worked with."
In his first-period science class they have studied a wide range of biological and chemical subjects, everything from how the human body works to how hog farms and coal ash are poisoning our environment. It's heady stuff, but now they know. Maybe they will be able to make things better.
Madison Yelton expressed gratitude that the class has taught her "how cells work, how they divide, how animals exist in the wild, how they survive." She also feels that high school in general has taught her, "how to be open minded. You might have an idea about something, but now we know how to learn more about it."
What they are learning can be grim at times.
Coal ash, a major byproduct of coal fired generation of electricity, is also a factor in heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease and other ailments. Presenting those facts in Bradley's class came off pretty academically. They also talked about how a 2014 flood of coal ash from a broken dam put 39,000 tons of the toxic waste into public water ways. Nobody was tempted to jump up and run out of the room.
Harsh realities of hog farming and acid rain caused no widespread panic either. The kids clearly knew their material.
Hog farming can inflict neighbors with swarms of flies in addition to headaches and nausea.
Bradley added, "Recent floods have left neighbors with hog waste in their backyards."
He also acknowledged that race and poverty have played a role in the placement of hog farms in counties with cheap land, low income, and often majority African-American populations.
Bradley became most animated over the issue of acid rain, large quantities of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide that have killed trees and harmed fish habitats in Western North Carolina. He stressed that all the pollutants mentioned are important to North Carolina, but the closer he got to home, the more emphasis he put on the topic.
"There is no neutral water occurring in nature, but as stream water becomes more acid, there is a big whoop-de-do affecting trout. The higher the acidity, the fewer eggs trout will lay. And as reproduction falls in a natural population, there is a great risk of what?" he asked.
Several around the room answered, "Extinction."
Again, nobody set their hair on fire and ran in circles.
In the nearly 50 years since the first Earth Day, in the nearly 60 years since Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, environmental bad news has become almost routine. But as Karl Bradley's passion became clear for his subjects and for how they effect North Carolina, his students had to be touched. The planet and the state they inhabit are in trouble.
The students talked about not only the complexities of science they have learned from Bradley, but also some basic life lessons.
Garry Ankrom Jr. may have summed the value of education in total when he said one of his life lessons is, "Expect the unexpected." Right. Grow up in "Small Town Friendly" Rutherford County and get your mind blown with coal ash, hog farms, and acid rain. Trout threatened with extinction? That certainly wasn't expected.
Colt Mast said, "Respect goes a long way." Another life lesson that touches on everything in our current environmental crisis. Until we find ways to respectfully generate electricity, farm, and care for natural habitats, we are in trouble.
Bradley also linked acid rain to coal burning generators by noting two of the major chemical villains are the sulfur dioxide and the nitrogen dioxide released by these plants. Those two chemicals linked coal and acid rain. These important lessons are not lost on the freshmen, sophomores, and juniors in his class. They are learning about the environment and life itself.
Bradley also said, "This is my 31st year as a North Carolina public school teacher. The rewards of teaching are where you find them and how you facilitate your students' development. I greatly enjoy the interaction with my students. No two days will be the same - the joys of teenagers. I enjoy their responses when they 'get it' on a topic or objective that is challenging. I enjoy watching them mature and prepare to go on other pursuits after high school. It is rewarding when they ask me to write recommendations for admissions or scholarships. Teaching freshmen and having them take another class from me as upperclassmen is rewarding. Hearing from them later in life is a treat. Simple thank yous make teachers smile."
Standing outside Bradley's classroom, senior Jessica Murray said, "He is an amazing classroom teacher."
Voted by his peers, Bradley was named Teacher Of The Year for RS this school year.