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September 27, 2011 > Funny Side Up

Funny Side Up

Science is more fun the second time around

By Charleen Earley

Life has a biological way of giving you do-overs. Like this summer when I was asked to be an environmental science camp counselor. I immediately asked if I qualified since I just about failed biology, chemistry and physiology in high school over 30 years ago.

Don't get me wrong. I loved those courses and loved my teachers Mr. Cornejos and Mr. Bandar even more; I just didn't test well, and okay, didn't study well either. What matters now is I'm back in the biological game.

The camp leader told me my lack of science skills would not be a problem, since the kids would do most of the work and I would be more like a facilitator or something real important like that.

I said yes to the job and to my surprise, I survived the week without burning sulfur through the floor, didn't have to take any tests - well, except for nitrate, pH, turbidity and sulfide in water samples, and best of all, I didn't have to work with the chemical Phenolphthalein, otherwise known as C20H14O4 - even though the haunting high school memories of chem lab would find me drifting at times.

No, see environmental science focused primarily on the environment and how we humans are messing it up big time, scientifically-speaking.

I learned that all of the plastics we've made are still present on planet earth in some form or another, living happily in landfills and at the bottom of oceans (basically everywhere) and won't decompose in our lifetime.

I learned that we are 100% dependent on our beautiful Delta for our water source and that Southern California wants it too. And most importantly, that the Delta is considered to be the most invaded estuaries in the world! I had no idea that more than 250 alien aquatic and plant species have invaded the Delta and at least 185 of these species have gained a foothold and are currently inhabiting (and altering) the Delta's ecosystem. Bad, bad water hyacinth - I don't care how pretty you look.

I also learned (on the first day mind you) to do a headcount of all those (including teachers) who ride the bus back home, instead of leaving someone behind to fend for transportation on their own.

The five-day camp was held at California State University East Bay's Concord site. During the week we took mini field trips to Dow Chemical's 450-acre wetland in Pittsburg, Ralph D. Bollman Water Treatment Plant in Concord, and Delta Diablo Sanitation District in Antioch - a somewhat "crappy" job, but someone has to do it, right?

I should also mention that this day camp, in conjunction with Contra Costa Economic Partnership, was largely sponsored by Chevron, who by the way is making incredible efforts to develop efficient facility projects that reduce energy costs, benefit the environment and ensure clean, reliable power for education, government and businesses. And no, they did not pay me for this plug.

Also as a camp counselor, I was versed in reinforcing 10 work-ready essential skills with the students in order to promote such job-qualities as professionalism and ethics, creativity and innovation, collaboration and communication, and more.

I thought I did a pretty good job of that all week long, sans day one when I forgot about the teacher who needed to ride the bus home with us.

Thank goodness for Starbucks gift cards. The teacher forgave me and I decided to give her an award called, "No Teacher Left Behind."

Interested in the 2012 camp series, visit I know I'm going back!

Charleen Earley is a high school ROP journalism teacher

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