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Hillsborough choice school keeps it naturally interesting

BY ELISABETH DYER | Times Staff Writer

It was an up-close look at how trash — even scraps from our kitchens — turns into electricity sent to as many as 10,000 Tampa homes, perhaps powering your TVs. ¶ About 20 kids from DeSoto Elementary School toured Wheelabrator McKay Bay, a waste-to-energy facility, last week. ¶ "That's really awesome," 7-year-old Oslen Hernandez told crane operator Melvin Lastinger as Lastinger operated a giant claw, big enough to crush a car, several stories above a garbage pit in a glass-encased room. The claw grabbed piles of trash, much like an arcade game plucks stuffed animals and drops them to eager hands. ¶ The field trip was part of a new environmental theme at the 1925 Spanish colonial school on McKay Bay. The school is one of several new options for children anywhere in Hillsborough through choice programs.

Also coming in August, an aerospace program at Madison Middle in South Tampa, a robotics program at McLane Middle in Brandon and a bank street academy at Temple Terrace Elementary. For high school students: advanced placement and career and technical programs at several schools.

DeSoto, with a capacity of 316, is about 2 miles from downtown and next to Desoto Park, which offers afterschool programs, said Terrie Dodson, the district's choice communications manager.

The environmental theme came, well, naturally, said principal Gilda Garcia. She knew she wanted to focus on math, science and technology.

The school has a view of McKay Bay and nearby businesses with environmentally conscious missions.

Next year's students will go on archaeology digs, plant seagrass, and test water and sand quality. The school campus, recently renovated, will get living laboratories and a greenhouse for kids to explore.

"We are empowering environmental leaders," Garcia said.

DeSoto partnered with neighbors, including the Florida Aquarium, Tampa's parks and recreation department, CF Industries and Wheelabrator McKay Bay Inc..

Garbage poured from a truck into a pit last week to a chorus of "Whoa" from kindergarteners and first-, second- and third-graders. Claws moved the trash to a metal grate that took it over a fire as hot as 2,500 degrees.

"It was huge, red, fiery and hot, bigger than any fire I've ever seen," said 9-year-old Cesar Delatorre.

The fire heats boilers, which produce high-pressure steam that is converted to electricity.

"Use your senses," teacher Shelly Linford told students.

"It smelled kind of like very stinky trash," Cesar said.

"It was burning my face," said 10-year-old Briasha Richardson, who says she wants to make the world a beautiful place.

"I love nature and I was glad to see they care about not polluting the world."

Elisabeth Dyer can be reached at or 226-3321.

>>apply in may

Interested in a choice school?

Call any choice or magnet school office for a tour. The next choice application period is May 5-16. For applications and more information, go online to

Hillsborough choice school keeps it naturally interesting 03/20/08 [Last modified: Thursday, March 20, 2008 6:01am]
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