Lowcountry middle school students are transforming into engineers, economists and other roles as part of an activity to learn about the benefits and costs of deepening Charleston Harbor.
The activity, created by the S.C. State Ports Authority, puts students into the roles of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers personnel who are studying the environmental, engineering and economic effects of deepening Charleston Harbor beyond 45 feet. SCSPA and Charleston District staff lead the activity in middle schools and teach the kids about the harbor deepening project.
“The activity gives students an opportunity to apply what they learn in the classroom to real-world projects happening in their community while giving them a chance to work through and defend decisions, in this case, how deep to dredge the harbor,” said Sara Corbett, Charleston District public affairs specialist.
At recent trips to Fort Johnson Middle School and Palmetto Scholars Academy, students were shown a short video about the SCSPA, and Corbett talked to students about the Charleston District’s role in the project. Students then broke into groups of four or five and each student had a specific role: economist, engineer, environmental scientist, accountant or project manager. Each role had its own worksheet, and the students used those worksheets to do simple calculations measuring the effects of deepening Charleston Harbor to 50 feet or 52 feet. For example, the economist measured the number of extra containers that could come into a deeper harbor, while the environmental scientist calculated the amount of wetlands affected.
Once the groups finished their worksheets, they discussed their choice of depth based on their calculations. As a class, they presented their findings and used the data to back their decision. Some students were very cost-conscious, leading them to choose cheaper equipment and a shallower depth, and some students who chose 50 feet noted the environmental impacts. Others focused on the economic benefits of 52 feet, citing the increase in trade that would come with a deeper harbor. Some enterprising students calculated the number of ships needed to recoup the project’s cost; a calculation not asked for on the worksheets.
SCSPA staff created the exercise to teach students about the harbor deepening project and the ports’ role in the local, statewide and national economy. More than 1,000 students from all across South Carolina have participated in the activity since it first began in December. Feedback on the program has been positive so far, and during the early trips to schools, teachers offered constructive feedback and tweaks to better the activity. With the word out, the SCSPA and Charleston District hope to continue signing up more schools and teaching middle schoolers about Charleston Harbor and the great work done by the Port and Army Corps.