Students Weigh-In On Bakken Pipeline Controversy

17750168959_4cce60225f_kBy now the Iowa Utilities Board may be wondering what hit it.

Wednesday at Brody Middle School a cross-curricular project that’s been several weeks in the making culminated with more than 100 7th graders submitting letters to the IUB online. They were weighing in with their suggestions, opinions and recommendations about the proposed Bakken Pipeline project that would pump oil from North Dakota through Iowa en route to Illinois.

First the students studied the topic in small groups in Amy Kissell’s science class. They came to group consensuses about whether to recommend or reject the permit application that’s currently before the IUB. Then, in Judy Pauley’s language arts class, their assignment was to write persuasive letters expressing their individual opinions on the proposal and formally submit them via the IUB’s website which solicits citizen input.

In both classes the emphasis was on informed opinions more than the opinions themselves.

“We stressed to the kids that, whatever they decided, their decisions needed to be based on facts and evidence,” said Kissell. “Some of the kids had their minds changed during the process.”

One who did is Spencer Johnson.

“I was pretty strong against it when we started,” he said minutes after sending in his letter. “Now I’m kind of on the fence. I can see both sides.”

So what advice did he have for the decision-makers?

“I just told them it’s complicated and shared some facts with them to consider before they make up their minds.”

After Kissell got the project started she and Pauley put their heads together on how it could segue between classrooms. They likened this current event study to one last fall that culminated with a visit to Brody by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Regional Director for a roundtable discussion about water quality.

Along the way the teachers discovered that Brody math teacher Eric Hanson’s father once sat on the utilities board. So Darrell Hanson was happy to come in and talk to the 7th graders and share insights from the perspective of a board member.

Kissell graded the students on the quality of their research. Pauley graded them on the strength and presentation of their reasoning. Now it’s up to the IUB to decide – with more than a little help from their friends at Brody.

“It doesn’t matter to us what the kids recommend,” said Pauley. “It’s important that they make the effort to learn about issues facing us and express their feelings effectively and appropriately.”

While the board members continue to wrestle with the pros and cons of the pipeline it’s on to the next assignment for the 7th grade citizens. As class was winding down in Room 208 on Wednesday morning Pauley reminded everyone about the next paper that’s coming due.

She didn’t have to tell Cayden Storm. Before she said anything he already had a laptop open and was shifting gears from one project to the next. He said he wasn’t exactly passionate about the pipeline one way or another. But Jackie Robinson, let me tell you about him!

NOTE: Just after this story posted the Brody 7th graders received the following response to their letter-writing campaign:

To the 7th Grade Students:

I have been receiving notices from the Iowa Utilities Board that you have been commenting on the Bakken oil pipeline that is proposed to diagonally cross Iowa.

You have obviously studied this issue and formed your own opinions.  I am very proud of all of you for taking the next step in submitting your comments.  It shows great responsibility on your part by participating in our governmental process.  You are all to be commended for your efforts.

Congratulations and have a great summer!

Neila Seaman
Sierra Club, Iowa Chapter

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