School Notes: Valley Students to Present Research in Boston

  • Lebanon High sophomore Zach Herndon, 16, of West Lebanon, middle, heats a substance in a spoon to see if it melts while identifying whether or not it has an ionic or covalent bond in a chemistry lab with Olivia Balise, 17, of Plainfield, left, and Derek Griffin, 16, of Lebanon, right, in Lebanon, N.H., Friday, January 13, 2017. Herndon will attend the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston in February to display data from his experiment on the effectiveness of horticultural charcoal to improve the distribution of nutrients to tomato plants. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Zach Herndon, 16, of West Lebanon, prepares for a chemistry lab at Lebanon High School, in Lebanon, N.H. Friday, January 13, 2017. Herndon is planning to follow up an experiment using manufactured horticultural charcoal to aid in fertilizing plants with a second study using charcoal he produces himself. He began the experiment while a student at Crossroads Academy under the instruction of Peter Faletra. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, January 16, 2017

How does Zach Herndon’s West Lebanon garden grow? It depends on how he fertilizes it.

The Lebanon High School sophomore’s experiments with cultivating tomatoes with different kinds of natural and manmade fertilizers, which he began as an eighth-grader at Crossroads Academy in Lyme, are helping his science education bloom, too.

“I picked this project because I thought that not as much had been done on it,” Herndon said during an interview at Lebanon High School last week, before dashing off to a workout with the school’s indoor track team. “It was nice doing something I could relate to.”

Herndon and his sister Emma, a Lebanon High freshman, were encouraged to pursue their interests in science during their years at Crossroads, under the tutelage of teacher Peter Faletra.

Faletra formalized his approach in 2016 by establishing a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) center to encourage students from schools around the Upper Valley and New Hampshire to pursue studies and careers in science and engineering.

Faletra is also executive director of the New Hampshire Academy of Science (NHAS), whose member scientists from Crossroads, Dartmouth College and other institutions have overseen the research projects of Granite State middle- and high-school students since 2014. NHAS this year chose Herndon and 20 other Upper Valley students to present their research at the annual symposium of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Herndon is making his second trip to the AAAS gathering, after NHAS selected him in 2015 for a project involving electromagnetic effects on seed growth, on which he had collaborated with a fellow student at Crossroads.

This time, Herndon spent the better part of two years testing how well his tomatoes grew with the use of charcoal as fertilizer versus other forms of fertilizer — before concluding that charcoal is not as effective as he had thought.

“I measured the leaf dimensions, the stem width and circumference,” he recalled. “The fertilized plants were tall and healthy, and the fruit was huge.”

Most of the Upper Valley students, many of whom attend or did attend Crossroads, will be presenting agriculture-related projects.

“Some of the students have been working for five years,” NHAS member Pam Jenkins, an adjunct professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, wrote in an email last week. “All of these students will have abstract publications in the minutes of the AAAS annual meeting. … Their research included the areas of toxicology, environmental biology, plant biology, molecular biology and neurobiology.”

In addition to Zach Herndon, the following Upper Valley students, by research topic, will present at the national symposium:

Impact of pesticides on growth of roundworms and/or on microscopic organisms — Emma Herndon, of West Lebanon; Hanover High student Claire Adner; Ethan Adner, of Hanover High School, and St. Johnsbury Academy student Brandon Pettee, of Warren, N.H.; Crossroads Academy student Miriam Viazmenski, of Hanover, Lebanon resident Grace Griggs (Kimball Union Academy) and Grafton resident Sophia Miller (Lebanon High); Hanover resident Johannes Testorf (Hanover High) and Piermont resident Fiona Sweeney (St. Johnsbury Academy).

Detecting adulteration of genetically-modified seed or food products by exposure to non-GMO plants and food — Hanover High School students Andrew Kotz and Sam Seelig, both of Lyme; Hanover’s Miriam Viazmenski (Crossroads) and Norwich’s Fiona Barthel (Hanover High).

Binge-eating behavior in rats — Ethan Adner, Hanover High School.

Effects of different stresses on showy lady’s slipper plantsCrossroads students Elizabeth Leonard, of Hanover, and Constance Hammer, of Monroe, N.H.; Crossroads students Andrew Huang, of Norwich, and Jonathan Li, of Hanover; Crossroads students Rain Liu, of West Lebanon, and Leanna Kish, of Hanover.

Herndon, who said he is enjoying the science program at Lebanon High — “The teachers are great. I love chemistry especially. … And I’m able to work ahead, at my own pace” — is encouraged by seeing students from his and other area schools connecting with the STEM lab at Crossroads to explore science beyond the classroom.

“I’m really glad they’re branching out to other schools now,” Herndon said. “It’s great it’s happening here at Lebanon.”

He added that while he is still exploring what field to pursue in college and beyond, Herndon is counting on his trips to the AAAS conferences to give him a leg up in his effort to attend one of the military academies.

“It’s a really good thing to have on your resume,” he said.

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Cells

With a runner-up performance at the recent state championships of the New Hampshire FIRST LEGO League, a squad of seven students from Hanover’s Richmond Middle School qualified to compete at the First LEGO League world festival in St. Louis in the spring.

In addition to finishing second overall, the Team Roadkilz lineup of eighth-grader Lara Witwick and sixth-graders Cameron Bonner, Lauren Hall, Sarah Hall, Lachlan McCann, Sam Sacerdote and Sora Shirai won the tournament’s global-innovation award. This year’s challenge was to “explore how we can improve our relationships with animals.”

Other Upper Valley teams earning awards at the New Hampshire championships were Crossroads Academy’s PlatyPi team (John Cassell, Riley Chin, Andrew Huang, Brynne Spaeth, Mikey Rieger and Anna Testorf) for its mechanical design in the robot-design competition, and Claremont’s Rogue Robots team with a judges’ award in public safety. The robot assembled by another Crossroads ensemble, Team Robats (Noah Blanchflower, Thea Choyt, Kai Doron, Xavier Khan and Brandon Landgraf), posted the highest performance score in the Animal Allies category for the presentation in bat conservation.

Georgia Mealey, of Randolph, competed in the design-calculations category of a northeast-regional contest held by the American Society for Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers in 2016.

Before graduating from Vermont Technical College in Randolph Center last spring, Mealey worked with VTC classmates Harper Keenan, of Elmore, Vt., and Darien Calverley, of Attleboro, Mass., on a capstone project comparing the advantages and disadvantages of different options for climate-control systems at a building in China.

Another team of VTC graduates, composed of Vermont residents John Kubacz, of Fairfax, Caleb Bristol, of Townshend, and William Roberts, of Starksboro, recently learned that they won the competition.


The Grantham School District recently memorialized former school board member Gale Schmidt with a ceremony dedicating the Grantham Village School’s new outdoor classroom in her name.

During her tenure on the school board, Schmidt, who died at age 69 in 2014, championed the use of the outdoors to teach science to elementary students. Fellow board members, school staff and Grantham residents raised money from a wide variety of sources — among them grants from Hypertherm’s Hope Foundation and Couch Family Foundation and the Eastman Charitable Foundation — and the Timken Family Foundation. Also, Trumbull-Nelson donated labor as contractor of the project.

“A group of elementary students held two bake sales and donated the proceeds to the classroom,” Grantham School District Superintendent Jacqueline Guillette added in a news release. “People dropped money into a donation box at several Grantham Old Home Day events. This was truly a community effort.”

Parental Guidance

Etna storyteller and lecturer Cindy Pierce appears at the Norwich Bookstore on Wednesday night at 7 to share perspectives and information about helping parents and educators guide their children through the cultural, media and peer pressures on adolescent and college-age students, particularly in their social lives and sexual relationships.

Pierce will base her talk on her book, Sex, College, and Social Media: A Commonsense Guide to Navigating the Hookup Culture. While admission to the presentation is free, the bookstore recommends reserving seats ahead of time by calling 802-649-1114 or emailing info@norwichbookstore.com.

All the Valley’s a Stage

The Vermont Symphony Orchestra’s Fanfare Brass Trio performs at Woodstock Elementary School, Prosper Valley School in South Pomfret and Barnard Academy on Monday. In addition to playing music from a variety of genres, trumpeter Glendon Ingalls, French horn player Ron Wold and trombonist Bear Irwin will demonstrate how their instruments produce their sounds and share the evolution of those instruments. Performance times are 9 a.m. at Woodstock Elementary, 10:45 at Prosper Valley and 1 p.m. at Barnard Academy.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.


Gale Schmidt was a member of the Grantham School Board but never served in the Legislature. An earlier version of this column incorrectly described her public service.