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White Brook Middle School students track fast-growing zebra fish embryos

Megan Morissette,13, of Easthampton, a students in Jan de Ubl's science class at White Brook middle school studying Zebrafish with Michael Barresi, an assistant professor at Smith College who studies brain development using Zebrafish.

Megan Morissette,13, of Easthampton, a students in Jan de Ubl's science class at White Brook middle school studying Zebrafish with Michael Barresi, an assistant professor at Smith College who studies brain development using Zebrafish. Purchase photo reprints »

A biology project at White Brook Middle School last month made student Hannah Miller feel like “a real scientist.”

Miller was among 120 eighth-graders who took part in a weeklong unit on zebrafish, a tropical fish that’s part of the minnow family, using equipment provided by a Smith College professor.

Students observed the fast-growing fish embryos over several days using dissecting microscopes supplied by Michael Baressi, an assistant biology professor at Smith. The unit culminated in a visit from Baressi, who conducted an experiment for students in Jan de Ubl and Jeff Bucs’ science classes.

Zebrafish are especially good subjects for classroom work because they are see-through and develop so quickly, explained Miller, 13.

“It was amazing the way they started out as a tiny embryo and then by Friday, we could see eyes and a heart beating,” she said.

The zebrafish project grew out of a free workshop that Baressi offered at Smith last summer to area middle school science teachers. After attending that session, de Ubl signed on to a larger outreach project Baressi has launched with a grant from the National Science Foundation.

The grant pays for zebrafish embryos, equipment and guidance for teachers on conducting in-classroom experiments. Besides Easthampton, Baressi said he has worked with public school teachers in East Longmeadow, Northampton, Westhampton and Enfield, Conn.

De Ubl called the Smith professor’s visit to her class at White Brook “a heroically generous extension of his lab.”

Being able to use the dissecting microscopes was “a real treat” for students, she added. “We don’t have equipment like that at the middle school level. We were able to watch the zebrafish develop with remarkable clarity,” de Ubl said.

Miller, who hopes to become a science teacher someday, was similarly enthusiastic. “It felt a lot cooler, using the stuff that scientists use in their own labs,” she said.

The eighth-grader was also struck by the experiment Baressi conducted where he inserted a jellyfish gene into one of the zebrafish to make its heart glow.

“That was pretty weird!” Miller said. “Now, I want to go to Smith College and work in Dr. Baressi’s lab.”

Fundraiser grows

The number of restaurants participating in the upcoming “Dine Out Easthampton” fundraiser for White Brook Middle School continues to grow. A percentage of restaurant meals purchased on Feb. 19 will be donated to the school.

The latest roster of participating restaurants and the percentage they will donate includes: Apollo Grill (15 percent); Riff’s Joint (15 percent); Tavern on the Hill (15 percent); Village Pizza (15 percent); Papa George’s Pizza (10 percent); Glory of India (10 percent, with flier); Easthampton Diner (10 percent, with flier).

White Brook’s Students and Teachers Engaged with Parents group is organizing the event to raise funds for new books, school supplies and other middle school needs. For details, email STEP members Young at Dawnyoung30@hotmail.com; Sharon Malouin at Gatorboxer@charter.net; or Michelle Raskevitz at razfam@charter.net.

Kindergarten registration

Registration night for public kindergarten has been set for March 6 at 6:30 p.m. in the Pepin School auditorium. A tour of kindergarten classrooms at Pepin and Center schools will be held on March 11 from 1 to 2:30 p.m. and March 12 from 9:30 to 11 a.m. On registration night, parents can sign up for screening appointments where teachers will help determine children’s academic abilities and needs. Those appointments will be held May 2 and 3.

For information, call the main office at Pepin School, 529-1545.

Civics competition

A team from the Williston Northampton School led by Easthampton School Committee member Peter Gunn has earned one of four “wild card” spots in a national civics competition in Washington, D.C., in April. Gunn’s “We the People” team came in second out of nine schools and 220 students competing last month for the right to represent Massachusetts in the nationals. A team from the Academy of Notre Dame in Tyngsboro took first place. Easthampton High School’s team — which last year won the state championship — did not place in the top three. Still, contest officials said EHS members performed well in what was a “tight” competition this year.

New building on Youtube

A view of the final stages of construction of the new Easthampton High School building on Williston Avenue is now available on Youtube. Patrick Brough, president of the Greater Easthampton Chamber of Commerce, posted his latest video of the project at: http://youtu.be/Zs1mD-8_oMk.

The city school department is set to take possession of the new $39.2 million high school building sometime this month, according to Building Committee Chairman Michael Buehrle. Students and teachers are scheduled to move into the new building over spring break in April.

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