TEC Connections Academy student takes action on Pittsfield water pollution

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PITTSFIELD — Lena DuPont may be somewhat new to the Berkshires, and only in the seventh grade, but she's not afraid to tackle the tough environmental issues of the Berkshires.

The homeschooled student moved to Pittsfield from Philadelphia in 2014, and this year she's a student in the Gifted and Talented program of TEC Connections Academy, a Massachusetts virtual school for students in kindergarten through Grade 12. Through an optional "Citizen Science" course, she was asked to complete a "Take Action" project in her local community.

"In this course, we're looking for students to take on something above and beyond their regular science course," said her teacher, Hamida Merchant. "The Gifted and Talented program encourages students to do something at a higher level of learning, that typically involves more problem-solving, critical thinking and social action."

The 13-year-old, since elementary school, has taken an interest in issues relating to water, from pollution to beach erosion to conservation. She's also involved with the Girl Scout Cadettes, is a peer math tutor and is training for air pistol competitions with Junior Olympics and at the Lee Sportsmen's Association.

For her Take Action project, DuPont decided to address water pollution, inspired by ongoing news stories she's read about the Housatonic River and the battles between the Environmental Protection Agency and General Electric regarding the cleanup of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls).

The young woman spent eight weeks researching reports via websites and working with local agencies like the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, Berkshire Outdoor Center, Housatonic Valley Association, and Pittsfield City Hall. She and her family also made weekly visits to Richmond Pond, where DuPont recorded her observations about the presence of trash and wildlife, and also collected data about the waterfront. Then she began writing letters to public officials about her findings.

The student spoke with Mayor Linda Tyer on her project, and on March 14, at its regular meeting, the student presented her project and findings to the Pittsfield Green Commission in City Council chambers. Her slideshow included water pollution charts from various public and state reports as well as her own data. In addition to PCBs, she noted how litter and rain and storm runoff pollution can negatively affect local waterways and ecosystems.

"I would like to help inform the population about this problem and what citizens can do to affect change," DuPont told the commission.

City Parks, Open Space, and Natural Resources Manager Jim McGrath, coordinated with the student for her presentation and said her research was timely, relevant and in tune to what professional organizations are finding.

"It takes a lot of bravery to stand up here," he said, encouraging DuPont to continue to be a leader in this cause. "We're going to keep her involved."

DuPont said she plans to continue sharing information with the public and doing river cleanups. "I think it's good for kids my age to be active in the community and in our area," she said.


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