When the youth at Multnomah County’s Donald E. Long Detention Center had the chance to meet a local meteorologist, it was no surprise that they engaged in a lively discussion.
After all, the youth who also serve as certified National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather-Ready Nation Ambassadors had been looking forward to local meteorologist Mark Nelsen’s special presentation.
“It was a really positive experience education-wise — the kids are learning a lot here,” said Nelsen, a meteorologist with KPTV. “They had great questions, they were interested in stuff, so it was a great experience for me and hopefully for them as well.”
From the Donald E. Long outdoor recreation area, the youth regularly collect weather conditions, check temperatures, humidity levels, wind direction and wind speed, measure and record daily precipitation data, and submit their findings to the CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow) Network, a group of science-inclined volunteers from all backgrounds who help measure and map precipitation in their communities. The student’s findings are also submitted to the National Weather Service to help local forecasters.
Students also participate in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) GLOBE program. By providing ground conditions and cloud observations through the GLOBE, youth are contributing to the advancement of NASA's satellite technology.
“You can look at this information and monitors here and say, ‘Oh, that's kinda interesting that there’s rain,’ but if they get their hands on something and go outside and record something and they empty the rain gauge, hands-on science is always better,” said Nelsen.
“I made a cloud in the bottle for the presentation and they go, ‘Oh, that's kinda interesting,’ as opposed to just me lecturing.”
Nelsen’s visit was part of overall efforts to bring more prosocial, skill-building and academic initiatives to youth involved in the juvenile justice system, including science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning.
“I saw kids sort of sit up straighter and be more interested," said Jennifer Hastings, a Multnomah Education Service District (MESD) science teacher who has incorporated the weather program into her STEM curriculum. "And even outside, they were saying, ‘I think I can do this,’ when given the opportunity to use the hands-on tools and saw that their data was being used by the local meteorologists to NASA."
The youths' work earns them high school science and math credit, as well as certificates from the National Weather Service and CoCoRaHS.
“We just had the first youth - in the history of the program - take the extended SkyWarn Weather Spotter course, and earn his own Skywarn weather spotter number and special recognition from the National Weather Service PDX office,” said Hastings.
“They were really proud to share that we’re actual weather ambassadors and that it is a big deal to be certified… and we are representing Multnomah County in that way,” said Hastings. “And that was really special to them to share that.”
As cooler temperatures approach amid predictions for a wetter-than-average winter in the Pacific Northwest, the students also plan to share weather information in English and Spanish.
“Bringing someone like Mark in is important because the kids will recognize him, and when they heard that I know someone who is on the news, that has a different meaning for them,” said Hastings. “They realize how their science and their data is reaching people.”
“Hearing Mark talk about how he uses the daily collected rain gauge data from Donald E. Long, to help his forecasts, surprised some of the youth and that has made the interest grow even more since his visit,” said Hastings.
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