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Project E3 starts conversation about conservation

July 15, 2018

AUSTIN — Who said learning can’t be fun?

That’s the idea behind Project E3, “Engineering and Environmental sciences for Everyone. “

The inter-district enrichment program drew about 80 students in grades 4-6 from the Austin, Albert Lea, Hayfield, Lyle, and Southland public school districts.

The middle-schoolers held a Summer Celebration at IJ Holton Intermediate School in Austin on Wednesday. Much like a science fair, they showed family and friends what they’d learned this year about water conservation, through demonstrations and discussions.

Alex Schmidt of Albert Lea said everyone should join Project E3 if they get the chance.

“I’ve learned way more here than in school,” the 12-year-old said. “Everyone who gets an invite should absolutely join, because it’s a great opportunity.”

Schmidt has been in the program all three years he was eligible, and he learned about water conservation, animal habitats and energy.

Mark Mikesh, a special education teacher at IJ Holton Intermediate School, said the format of the program is perfect for learning.

He said that since there aren’t the usual social norms of school, students are much more open to learning, asking questions and being creative. There’s never a test or worksheet.

While everything is hands-on, some might still think of it as simply more school, but Pranav Jha, 12, of Albert Lea disagreed.

“People might say, ‘Who wants to spend their summer in school?’ But it’s not just school,” Jha said. “You don’t think that you’re learning, but that’s because you’re having fun while you’re doing it.”

On Saturdays since November and four days a week since school ended, the students discuss conservation topics, on a three-year rotating schedule of water, animal habitats and energy.

Jha said these are vital ideas to learn about, because they will continue to exist and expand through the years.

“We’re going to grow up with this throughout our lives,” he said. “The problems are going to come, and we’re going to have to deal with them and conserve.”

But no matter what they learn, he and Schmidt agreed that the Project E3 enrichment program is a fun opportunity to continue learning.

“It doesn’t take away your summer,” Jha said. “It’s definitely worth it.”

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