Saturday, June 25, 2022

Visiting Collier County Public Schools is an A+ Experience


Photos by Jory Westberry
| Junior Lianna Larson debriefs with MS/HS Science Coordinator and Lely High School graduate, Ryan Westberry, at the conclusion of her research on The Economic Effects of Climate Change Protests on Oil Companies.

COVID-19 aside, my visits to our schools in Collier County are thoroughly rewarding and enlightening. As a School Board member, I’ve been to athletic events, band concerts, stage performances, Literacy Celebrations, Spelling Bees, K-12 classrooms with the most engaging teaching; judging events like the Solar Car competition and Science Fair Projects, which always amaze you with the level of science background and expertise in middle school and high school students. These are just a few of the experiences I’ve been fortunate enough to attend.

Another of my favorite events is the “Do the Right Thing” awards that recognize students from K-12 for, well, “doing the right thing.” A partnership between the Sheriff’s Department and Collier County Public Schools (CCPS) helps find the students and awards them for their positive character. They are recognized in front of their families, in front of their homes, where all neighbors can applaud as well. After the pandemic, hopefully, we’ll be back to recognition at school sites. I’ll have another article about these conscientious students for the next issue.

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the Lely High School AP (Advanced Placement) Research Capstone Program for the presentations of culminating research papers to an audience of students, teachers, and the students’ mentors via Zoom. Success is dependent on the student’s research and conclusions along with a professional level presentation that rivals college level research papers.

This kind of expertise in students doesn’t happen overnight. A prerequisite class called AP seminar and others taught by Whitney Gaskell and additional classes that help strengthen the skills needed to do the IWA – Independent Written Argument – the culminating event of the series of AP Research Classes taught by Dr. Cindy Gomez. Both teachers are prized by their students.

Additionally, students were supported in the research by experts in their chosen topics. Since audience groups were limited, the expert advisors participated virtually. To say these presentations were remarkable is an understatement.

Here are some of the high school Junior’s research topics; “What are the Economic Effects of Climate Change Protests on Oil Companies?” by Lianna Larson. After explaining her research using a t-test and that stock prices for oil companies increased, Lianna realized the limitations of her research, because the small sample size did not allow her to draw a conclusion, which happens in research studies and leads to further research or changing the direction and depth of the research. These are learning experiences which contribute to a student’s body of knowledge.

Mia Witthoff was interested in determining the amount of microplastic on the local beaches because high levels will affect the sand temperature and could interfere with sea turtle eggs hatching. She found a density separator prototype at Mississippi State and built her own model to test her sand samples and determine the amount of microplastics when they rose to the top of the density separator. There is a lot of interest in this topic because of the shipping containers that fall off ships and break open in the ocean. The degraded plastic (nurdles) wash up on beaches and are eaten by sea life. Surprisingly, Witthoff’s results show that there was little to no microplastic from her test sites on Collier County beaches. It was surmised, during discussion, that the east coast might be more liable to have microplastics due to wind and sea currents, which is a plus for our west coast turtles.

Isabel Keller researched Parent and Adolescent Mental Health for her IWA Independent Written Argument presentation.

Abbie Elliott’s research paper focused on “Racial Representation in Advertisements and Purchase Intent” (after watching the advertisements). Respondents saw a sample of commercials and based on the racial representation in each, decided which product they would probably purchase.

Isabel Keller researched the correlation between Parent and Adolescent Mental Health. She opted for a survey type of research and found her research inconclusive. The great part of the Oral Defense is the students’ candor when assessing their process and what they would do differently in the future. It would be great if we all had that “survival” skill.

Another focused student who contributed to the research process was Chandler Zuck, who developed an Android-based computer program that performs the Chi-Squared Analysis Test of Independence. According to Zuck, “This statistical analysis determines whether there is an association between categorical variables, i.e., determining if a cause-and-effect relationship is correlated with the independent variable being studied.” The program was used by the Lely High School AP Research students for post-study data analysis. Quite impressive and also a Junior!

While some of the research was inconclusive, the students’ research ideas, depth of knowledge, organizational skills and PowerPoint slides presented to their audience were spectacular. The students also demonstrated knowledge and poise through the Q and A Oral Defense portion of the process, as well as appreciation for their teachers, who had prepared them for an in-depth professional presentation and the confidence to continue research of other topics in their stellar futures.


This is the density separator that Mia Witthoff constructed from the Mississippi State model and used to test her sand samples.


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