Students in the Environmental Systems class at West Orange – Stark High School have not only learned about rainforests, but their assignment included that they build one.

“How are we going to do that?” was their quick response.

But with a little ingenuity, teamwork, cardboard and art supplies, they did.

Environmental Systems Instructor Diana Virva said the concept for building the rainforest came from the JASON Project, a nonprofit subsidiary of the National Geographic Society which connects students with great explorers and great events to inspire and motivate them to learn science.

JASON’s unit “Operation: Resilient Planet” takes students to Earth’s critical ecosystems to understand pressures from human-induced changes and recognize their responsibility for defending biodiversity.

Their study included animals, trees and plants, weather, levels, and location. 

The students say they were surprised there was so much that they did not know about the rainforest ecosystem.

Brittany Murillo, a senior, said she was always aware that the environment was important, but she did not understand to what extent until she and her classmates were assigned the project.

“It’s just amazing to know how much energy we are using each day and what we are taking away from the earth; and we don’t even stop to think about it,” she said.

Matthew Provost, her classmate, knew that paper was a product of trees; but was not aware of rainforest by-products such as rubber and chocolate.

“We need to try to preserve as much of the rainforest as we can because this is all that we have. It is wrong to take away from what God made. And, these animals need their habitat,” Provost said.
The project has also made him very aware of environmental impacts of oil and gas, as well as resulting pollution created by that industry.
Every student in the class says their personal habits have changed as a result of this unit of study.

Artis Rubin said he is quick to turn off un-used lights in his home.

Others add that they try to use less electricity, try to buy organic cleaning solutions, and even hope to purchase hybrid vehicles.

Virva said the class requires that students know the systems of the earth and how everything works together. The JASON project provided students with a mechanism for learning the material in a different and fun manner. 

The students will continue to put the finishing touches on their classroom model; and on Earth Day, Wednesday, April 22, the students will invite the teachers and staff of West Orange – Stark High School to visit and share the wonders and beauty of this unique ecosystem.