SPRING HILL — Viruses are lurking on objects and skin, just waiting for unsuspecting hosts. But sixth-graders at Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics are on to them.
Their teachers worked with Hernando County Fire Rescue and the Hernando County hazardous materials response team to present information about plagues, bioterrorism, weapons of mass destruction, emergency systems, viruses and decontamination. For two days, students watched PowerPoint presentations and videos and listened to talks about the dangers the emergency responders face and what their jobs entail.
In a telling exercise, students innocently passed around a piece of head gear, not knowing that it had been coated with a substance that glowed in the dark, but was invisible in light. When a black light was turned on, it became clear how easily cross-contamination can happen, as glowing hands popped into view.
The lessons covered several sixth-grade benchmarks for science, including toxins, infectious diseases and pathogens, and how they are spread. Other disciplines were also involved. In language arts, for example, students read Code Orange by Caroline B. Cooney, about an outbreak of smallpox.
A highlight of the presentation was the simulated decontamination on the second day. Students were instructed to pass between two vehicles that were spraying water — a lot of water. The students had expected a water day, and they were not disappointed.
"It was awesome," said Richie Hopper, 12, "because I got wet."
Cassandra Gannon, 12, agreed.
"I thought it was wet, sticky and fun," she said.
As wet and fun as it was, apparently some of the lessons sank in.
Said Cassandra: "I learned that terrorists can use viruses as an attack."
Brendan Cafra, 12, caught another tidbit. "We learned that viruses can't be cured with antibiotics," he said.
Emily Escamilla, 11, learned "that bioterrorism is likely and dangerous. It was fun."
Morgan Culp, 11, said, "I learned about all of the weapons, atomic bombs and stuff that terrorists use for attack."
Said Brooke Fielder, 12: "We learned about how you can get hazardous materials off your body. You can either dilute it, absorb it, (use a) power wash and (go into) isolation."
Jake Costello, 12, found out how anthrax looks. "I have learned that anthrax is not white. It actually looks like sand," he said.
Sidney Dill, 12, had a lot of information to share.
"They taught us about weapons of mass destruction and how terrorists or bioterrorists would use that, like the twin towers, to strike fear into citizens, because they don't know who they were targeting or who they would target next," she said.
"I also had fun when they passed the helmet with glowing powder on it and they showed it under a black light to show how all the hazardous materials can get on your hands if they're not cleaned properly."
The students saw the importance of the jobs the visiting professionals perform.
"I learned that the CDC and haz-mat team weren't unimportant because they're actually the ones who take charge of things," said Savannah Geiger, 12. "And if there's a mess, they clean it up. And I learned how a virus can be spread and how to protect yourself, such as using cat litter to absorb hazardous materials."
Isaac Gonzalez, 12, said he learned "how each person has a very important job to respond to fires and chemical waste."
Math teacher Michele Plummer and science teacher J.B. Dill coordinated the event. They were assisted by science teacher Colleen Doulk, language arts teachers Shelly Kloiber and Arlene Booth, geography teachers Andy Zipperer and Jen Kean and math teacher Linda Martin.