ESA Hits its Fourth Year

Discussing the experiences of the senior class of ESA

Rosie Dougherty-Herrmann, Interactives Editor

This fall, the first class of ESA students started their senior year. Now, for the first time students in all four grades are enrolled in ESA. These students have taken two sciences every year as part of the academy. There were originally 24 students in the first class, but with some students taking interest in other topics there are now only 17 ESA seniors. These students have been the ‘guinea pigs’ for the program, and have taken many different classes from what the current freshmen will take. Their classes have included Geology, Ecology, Horticulture, AP Environmental Science, and Environmental Literature.

Adam Mulcahy is the academy director and has taught most of the ESA classes for their first year as part of the academy. “Our students are busy creating a fall garden, working on propagation labs, observational research, lots of great Biology, Earth Science, and Chemistry labs, and currently many of them are participating in a global Environmental 30 day challenge for the month of October. We are also excited to continue developing the new Geography-English Global Studies program for our 9th graders,” he said. Although classes were recently changed so that freshmen will take Biology instead of Earth Science, Mulcahy explained that the classes are mostly decided for the future. They are also hoping to add some additional classes, such as Environmental Art.

Mulcahy explained the challenges of planning the classes for the academy. “I would say that the greatest challenge is that students at WAHS have so many amazing opportunities and we want to offer so many great courses, but it is very difficult to fit all that into the structure of the schedule for a high school student while fulfilling all the states required courses. It is a constant struggle to find balance between offering special and unique opportunities for learning, while trying to not limit student choice and the ability to pursue other interests and passions.”

Ava DiVita, an ESA senior, was drawn to the academy because she enjoyed science and wanted to be a part of something new. She enjoys the numerous field trips and labs that ESA students participate in. Since she started the academy, a lot has changed. “We now have the building, which wasn’t even built until the end of my sophomore year, and there are more teachers involved. Also, as seniors, we have taken some classes that are different than the grades behind us are having to take, because we were the guinea pigs for which class would and would not work,” she said.

DiVita explained that her favorite class was Environmental Science, in which students evaluated their impact on earth and brought combined their previous knowledge. “I think the most important thing I’ve learned is my role as a citizen globally, how I need to be as part of the environment and be aware of what’s going on around me,” she said.

She advises ESA students “…you and your classmates in ESA are like a family; sometimes you’ll love them, sometimes you’ll hate them but you’ll mostly love them…not many people in high school get the chance to have such good friendships so definitely value your time with them. Also stay on top of your work…you will think that it’s easy and you get to play around outside and then you realize you have three lab write-ups to do and a book to read by the next class.”

She also said to future ESA students, “I hope that even though they won’t get to spend as much time with Mr.Mulcahy that they still get some of his ‘life nuggets’ where he gives us life advice. He gives good advice and everyone deserves to hear it.” Finally, she hopes that the younger classes of ESA students are better at keeping animals alive, namely the new bees. “We don’t have a good track record with keeping animals alive… got tadpoles- killed those, got fish- killed those, started a koi pond- killed half of those, started a frog pond- no frogs, had a trout tank sophomore year- also killed those. Hopefully future ESA kids are a little better at that.”

Henry Keith is also a senior in ESA this year. Like DiVita, he joined ESA because he was interested in ESA and wanted to learn more about it. “My whole life has changed since I first started. Mr.Mulcahy is an amazing teacher and an amazing person who taught me about what’s really important in life,” he said. After graduating, he plans to study sustainability, which he has learned about in his ESA classes. On the topic of classes, he said,  “AP Environmental Science was definitely the most useful class when it comes to the environment as a whole. It taught me a lot about how the environment works and how we can improve its health.”

“We have an awesome school and I am proud that these kids have chosen to participate in the ESA. This first cohort has helped forge the way for all those that will follow in their footsteps and have set a high bar for expectations. I can’t wait to see what amazing things that this group will do and study in college as wonderful ambassadors of ESA and Western Albemarle,” Mulcahy said.