By Yadira Betances
---- — LAWRENCE — When Mariallette Batista’s science teacher asked the class to do a project and presentation, she knew exactly what topic to choose — cardiovascular disease.
The topic is a personal one for Batista — she was 2 months old when her mother died of a heart attack.
“I wanted to show people how bad this problem is. I never met my mother and I don’t want others to lose theirs,” said Batista, now a seventh grader at the Up Academy at Leonard Middle School. She cried while doing the research, as she thought of her late mother.
Batista was one of 60 students in Dan Adler’s class to research, write and present their projects to other students, teachers and fellows from the “Four Weeks for America” program, part of the Teach for America program.
In addition to heart disease, other themes included drug abuse, alcohol abuse, muscles, the environment, osteoporosis, cloning, pollution, smoking, cancer, concussions, deforestation, oil spills, poaching, genetic engineering, global warming and obesity.
“The science fair is a chance for seventh-grade science students to present issues related to content we’ve studied in science this year and act as change agents by educating others about both dangers and potential solutions on these issues,” Adler said.
Students learned the basics about each topic in the classroom, using their iPads to do further research. Adler said he challenged students to keep their essays short and focused on what people needed to know the most.
“Education is only as good as what you do with it, and with the problems we’re facing we want to show them it can be used to change the world for the better,” Adler said.
Jaquell Sneed, a senior at Harvard University studying psychology, said she was glad she came to the fair.
“It was inspiring to see the students. Some were shy at first, but they were able to open up. It was just amazing to see them have that pride. This was a priceless moment,” said Sneed, who is participating in “Four Weeks for America.”
Jason Velasquez, 13, and Bryan Martinez, 12, chose drug abuse as their topic.
“Drug abuse is a problem in our community, with people selling and using drugs,” Martinez said.
Martinez said he learned a lot, after he and Velasquez did extensive research on drugs.
“It encourages me not to try them, because I don’t want to end up dead at a young age,” Martinez said.
Research about environmental matters taught Eldred Costigan to recycle more and Jonathan Bruno to shut off the lights once he leaves a room and turn off the water while brushing his teeth.
“We can all help by doing a little bit at a time,” Bruno said.
The UP Academy at Leonard Middle School is part of Receiver Jeffrey Riley’s turnaround plan. It educates students in sixth to eighth grades from 7:25 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The school has 120 students in each grade and 47 staff members, said principal Komal Bhasin. They also have arts, music and fitness classes as well as daily tutoring and a computer learning lab to help students hone their English and math skills.
“We’re unlocking their potential,” Bhasin said. “I believe that when we set high expectations, they rise to them.”