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A fifth-grade science and math teacher at Franklin Regional will participate in a six-day scientific exploration of Lake Erie this week, conducting research aboard a vessel to study the health and water quality of the lake from Cleveland to Erie.

“This opportunity to work side-by-side with scientists at Lake Erie and collaborate with them as they ask questions and investigate real ecological problems is the best way to impact my students,” says Brienne May, who has taught at Franklin Regional since 2017.

The opportunity to be part of a group of 12 educators and three scientists conducting the research from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s research vessel Lake Guardian, which left Cleveland on Sunday, “really provides teachers with the opportunity to learn in a highly authentic environment,” May said.

“I can’t wait to dive in and learn more about it firsthand. Not only what the problems are, but how we and my students can help,” May said.

May was among 12 educators selected from 115 applicants to participate in the EPA’s Great Lakes National Program, which conducts research on all five freshwater lakes, said Kelly Donaldson, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Sea Grant program involved in the initiative.

“Her essay (applying for the program) was phenomenal,” Donaldson said.

She will board the largest research vessel to sail the five Great Lakes on Thursday and will head to Presque Isle in Lake Erie before returning to Cleveland on Saturday.

The research vessel makes annual trips to all five Great Lakes and reports on the status and development of the lakes’ ecosystems, according to the EPA’s website. The Sea Grant program is carried out in cooperation with the Great Lakes National Program Office and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

May’s educational background fits the purpose of the trip well. She holds a master’s degree in education from San Diego University and a doctorate from Liberty University in Virginia, with her dissertation focusing on science education. She has been involved in the Chesapeake Bay Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience Ambassador Program and has worked with her students to collect and identify macroinvertebrates and conduct contaminant tolerance testing on a stream that runs through the school district’s property.

Through pre-voyage programs, May said she has already learned about the formation and history of the Great Lakes, as well as current issues affecting the lakes, such as invasive species, microplastics and harmful algal blooms. The ship has three onboard laboratories where educators and scientists can conduct their research and experiments.

“You’ll be immersed every day in every phase of the research that’s being done (on the ship),” Donaldson said of May and the two other Pennsylvanians — a naturalist from Erie and an environmental educator with the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. They’ll be joined by educators from Ohio, New York, Indiana and Illinois.

May said she will be responsible for sharing her experiences with her students and her science colleagues. She wants to expand water science instruction, Franklin Regional’s sustainability efforts and Great Lakes literacy for all students in the district.

“If we want our students to think and act like scientists, teachers must first have these experiences to think and act like scientists,” May said.

Joe Napsha is a TribLive reporter who covers Irwin, North Huntingdon and the Norwin School District. He also writes about business. He grew up on Neville Island and has worked at the Trib since the early 1980s. Reach him at [email protected].