Middle school class ponders: What would zombies do?

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) -- Some seventh- and eighth-grade science students at Spencer Butte Middle School have a bit of advice for federal officials responsible for coming up with long-term solutions for nuclear waste disposal: Stop spending money on nuclear power.

"I feel like before you start making all this nuclear energy, you need to have a secure place to get rid of it," 13-year-old Georgia Carleton said. "When you make a cake, you know where you're going to store and get rid of your ingredients before you make it.

"There's a lot of risk involved," she added.

The comments impressed teacher Shanna Davis.

"When you're president, will you remember me?" Davis asked Georgia.

Other students, though concerned about the government lacking plans to store radioactive leftovers, believe nuclear energy is more environmentally friendly than fossil fuels, such as coal, which release harmful carbon dioxide emissions.

Students in Davis' class are almost evenly divided over the topic, with slightly more in favor of nuclear energy than against.

The class, called "Zombie Apocalypse," has intrigued students since she first taught it last school year -- and not just because they think they'll get to learn about zombies.

Students study natural disasters, epidemics, survival skills and what to do during emergency situations. By the end of the year-long class, they'll be trained in CPR.

The class also covers why American culture obsesses over apocalyptic TV shows and movies, dating back to World War II.

Many students say they appreciate learning about topics that they otherwise wouldn't be taught. They say the class helps them understand what's being talked about in the news.

"It doesn't get boring," 14-year-old Kaia Lane said.

"It's practical science," 12-year-old Abby Fowler added.

One student admitted that, before the class, the only thing he knew about nuclear energy was the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant in "The Simpsons."

Davis' class has become one of the most popular elective classes -- courses that students are not required to take -- at the south Eugene school. The school added an additional section of the class this school year so more students can sign up, and Madison Middle School in northwest Eugene also started using the curriculum this year. Davis' husband, Geoff Davis, teaches the class at Madison.

Shanna Davis, 32, created the curriculum two years ago. The goal is to teach students critical thinking skills and how to be prepared for a natural disaster or emergency.

"Even as a seventh- and eighth-grader, I want them to know that they're powerful and can influence a situation," Davis said.

She also wanted to show students that science, history, politics and geography are related to each other in life.

"They all bleed together," said Davis, zombie pun not intended.

During the last term, students learned about epidemics and how diseases spread. They created "baseball cards" for diseases and infections like cholera, anthrax and Ebola. Students drew what the disease looks like under a microscope on the front of the card and included facts about the diseases on the back.

Part of the class's curriculum is to analyze what role news media play in informing the public about natural disasters and disease. Students were interested in the headlines about the Ebola virus that has claimed the lives of more than 8,000 people in West Africa.

"I overheard a student in the hallway tell one of my students that we're all going to die of Ebola," Davis said. "My student corrected him and went through how people actually become infected with the disease."

Students this term have learned about the Fukushima Daiichi and Chernobyl nuclear disasters, and studied the decades-long controversy at Yucca Mountain, a site about 100 miles from Las Vegas where officials have looked to store spent nuclear fuel.

Later this month, they'll create family emergency plans and kits to know what to do in case of fire, earthquake or other emergency.

"Hopefully, they'll learn that during an emergency, they need to just take a deep breath, don't freak out and assess the situation with a level mind," Davis said.

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Information from: The Register-Guard, http://www.registerguard.com

© 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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