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Berkshire High School Seniors To Present Housatonic River Project In China

Southern Berkshire Regional School District

While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other groups in western New England work on a cleanup plan for the Housatonic River, two area high school seniors are taking their thoughts on the river overseas.

Bonnie Silvers, vice chair of the Southern Berkshire Regional School District Committee, certainly has confidence in Mt. Everett Regional High School seniors Max Lowenstein and Kosta Casivant.

“You could probably take Max and Kosta, turn them loose and they can figure out how to save the entire Housatonic,” said Silvers.

Other than being high-achieving students, Lowenstein explains growing up in Sheffield, Massachusetts means you get to know the Housatonic River pretty well.

“Periodically throughout elementary school and even up into middle and high school, teachers will have you do reports on the Housatonic or research projects on water quality,” Lowenstein said. “So it’s something that’s an item of interest and has been for a long time for me just because of where I’ve grown up.”

In early October they’ll head to China to give their presentation at the third annual International Symposium on Water Resources Protection for High School Students. Casivant says they have studied the river’s history including what’s being done to remove harmful chemicals.

“Bio-remediation definitely seems like a viable option to clean the river,” Casivant said. “It’s a lot less invasive when compared to the traditional process of dredging which is very harmful to the local ecosystem in the river. Overall it just feels like a much better method. It’s a lot more interesting and complicated in a sense because it requires certain chemicals and natural agents to help break down the pollutants. But, through more research and testing it seems like it could be a very viable process.”

As two of just 334 students in grades 7 to 12 at Mt. Everett, Lowenstein and Casivant will also be the only students from the United States going, joined in China by peers from Germany and Hong Kong. Even with that in mind, Lowenstein, who’s interested in studying biotechnology in college, doesn’t feel much weight on his shoulders.

“Specifically, I’m really looking forward to the food,” Lowenstein said. “I’m something of a foodie.”

Despite the 15-hour flight, Casivant says the time will be well worth it.

“My goals after high school are to go into business, typically international business,” Casivant said. “So I feel like this will give me a good feel for the international feel and mindset. I also hope to learn a lot from the other countries that will be presenting and their local issues that they’re choosing to discuss.”

Mt. Everett teachers Wendy Casey and Stephanie Graham will be tagging along with the students. Casey, an English and teen leadership teacher, says the students won’t be the only ones learning.

“The educators will be talking amongst themselves in terms of ‘kids these days’ and what works, what’s motivating and what’s effective,” Casey said. “I think that’s going to be very exciting.”

Graham teaches fine arts and also advises a travel club called Beyond The Berks. She says experiences away from home during high school can help with any college transition.

“When they do finally go it could be a cultural shock,” Graham said. “So I think exposing them as much as possible at a young age will keep them more open-minded about new experiences and meeting new people.”

The team from Mt. Everett will be joined by trip coordinator Karen Pogoda, who reached out to school committee member Bonnie Silvers about the opportunity.

“She [Pogoda] said ‘Do you think your district would be interested?’” Silvers explained. “I think it took our superintendent David Hastings and our high school principal Glenn Devoti about one nanosecond to say ‘Yes!’”

The group will also sightsee and visit areas like Shanghai during the eight-day trip. While the group is in China, their expenses are covered by the symposium sponsors, but at a cost of roughly $2,300 per person, airfare and visas are not. The district is asking anyone interested in helping defray the costs call Mt. Everett Regional High School. Silvers hopes the trip can forge a lasting connection between Mt. Everett and the international schools.

“Neighbors of mine have said ‘Well, does this mean we could possibly have an exchange student who could possibly stay in our home? I want my kids to have the experience,” said Silvers.

Reports from the symposium will be compiled into a book that will available in various languages. After they return, Lowenstein and Casivant will present their Housatonic project and talk about their experiences abroad during a community event.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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