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Firelands' Student Studies Soil For Science Project (by Ellen Simmons, SDGNews)

Firelands' Student Studies Soil For Science Project

Annabelle Ortner was one of the youngest guests present at the Huron S.W.C.D. (Soil & Water Conservation District) Annual Banquet in the Expo Building at the Huron County Fairgrounds. She was there to be honored as the Science Fair Winner in the 4th-to-6th-grade category with a projected called, “Why Doesn’t Grass Grow on Our School Playground?”

At the time Annabelle conceived of and worked on the project, she was a sixth grader at Main Street School in Norwalk. Her favorite classes were science and math and her interests were playing the piano and riding horses.

She has lived her entire life in a quiet residential area in Norwalk in a house her grandfather built. She has a brother Douglas, a freshman at Norwalk High School, and parents Lori and Erin Ortner, owners of Liberty Tax Service in Norwalk and Sandusky.

A piano student for three years, Annabelle is not as keen about it as she was when she started playing, according to her mom, Lori, but she is sticking with it, at least for a while. She also plays the bass in the orchestra at school. When asked why she would pick an instrument taller than she is, she says, “because I liked the sound of it. It ties all the orchestra together with its steady beat.”

Annabelle rides a bay named Junior at Whispering Rain Farm, located south of Norwalk, where around 30 horses are stabled. A student for three years, she says she loves riding “because of the fact it’s just me and the horse.” She has become expert enough so in the summer she helps out around the stables and assists with summer camp.

Her fifth-grade teacher, Marcie Burns, really got her interested in science and helped her with her grass project, as did S.W.C.D. District Manager Chad Stang. She came up with the project when, “I saw the problem right there in the playground where there was an area where grass wouldn’t grow. I knew I could just walk out the door and take samples for the project and hopefully I would help the school look better.”

Her first hypothesis was there was a nutrient problem. Soil testing proved this to not be the case, however, and other possible answers included the type of grass, something wrong with the soil or a water retention problem. Unfortunately, time ran out before Annabelle could complete the project.

She agrees with Stang, however, that the soil probably cannot retain enough water to support grass. Formerly, a building sat on this portion of the playground, and it seems likely when it was torn down, the area was backfilled with debris from the foundation and building rather than with good soil.

Although Annabelle’s project was not conclusive, she outlined the steps she had taken on a large trifold display, and this is what made her a winner and a guest at the banquet. By the way, she hopes one of this year’s sixth graders at the school will follow through with the project she did not have time to finish.

Because of the quality of her project, she was invited to present it at three conferences. The first was the University of Toledo’s Science Fair (grades K-college), where she presented in the sixth grade division of The Mission Earth Satellites Conference in April.

After that she received the highest rating of four stars for grades third through sixth in the GLOBE Program Online International Virtual Confer-ence. In addition, hers was one of only two projects in the country to be awarded a $1,000 travel grant to attend the International Student Research Symposium in New Haven, Connecticut in July.

GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment) began in 1995 as a collaboration between the National Science Foundation, NASA and the National Oceanic and Space Administration. According to Facebook, “GLOBE is a science and education program that connects a network of students, teachers and scientists from around the world to better understand, sustain and improve Earth’s environment at local, regional and global scales. By engaging students in hands-on learning of Earth’s science system, GLOBE is an innovative way for teachers to get students of all ages excited about scientific discovery locally and globally.”

Since its beginning, more than 58,000 teachers and 1.5 million students in 112 countries have contributed 23 million measurements to the GLOBE database, which is available to scientists and students around the world.

Annabelle made the trip to New Haven with her mother where she met other students from as far away as Thailand, France and Oman.

The curriculum consisted of lectures and hands-on experiments. She found most of the lectures boring and cannot remember many of the topics because, “I wasn’t really paying attention.” However, the hands-on portion allowed her to visit the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale, take local samples of water and soil and even fly a drone. She says, “Honestly I was really nervous about that but I did OK.”

Despite some boredom and “horrible food,” she agrees with her mother this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The annual conference moves to various places around the world and this year’s is in Ireland. Both Annabelle and Lori would love to attend, but they say they probably won’t.

Today Annabelle is an honor student at Norwalk Middle School, where she is in the seventh grade and where her favorite subjects are still science and math. Although finishing high school is several years away, she has tentative plans to study to become a pediatric surgeon, first earning a degree at Cleveland State and then perhaps moving on to Harvard or Yale.

Those around Annabelle do not see any reason why she will not accomplish her goals. Stang says he only worked with her a few times, but he was glad to be able to help her and, “She was a pleasure to work with.” Her former science teacher Burns calls her “an excellent student who always wants to know something new. With Annabelle’s drive, the sky’s the limit for her, and she is going to be successful.”

Lori agrees and says, “Her father and I are immensely proud of her because she is an amazing girl. She is very driven and when she wants something, she goes ahead and gets it without having to be pushed. For example, she decided to learn sign language because she thought it would be useful when she became a doctor. First she took a free class and then got a computer program which she works on by herself. When she is motivated to do something, nothing is going to stop her.”

The Ortners are a close-knit family who enjoy traveling around the US, have already been to 22 states in the eastern part of the country and whose goal is to visit the 48 contiguous states before the kids graduate from high school. The next trip on their bucket list is out west and perhaps a trip on Amtrak through California.

Besides attending school and spending time with her music and her horse, Annabelle likes to “hang out with friends,” and both she and her brother help out in the family business.


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