Should Bluegrass Pipeline Be Built? Ask These Fourth Graders

This article originally appeared at KY Forward and is written by Tammy L. Lane, communications specialist and website manager for Fayette County Public Schools.

Fourth-graders at Booker T. Washington Intermediate Academy in Lexington keep up with current events as they gather pertinent facts, weigh pros and cons, and learn to argue their position with pencil and paper. Their topic: the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline.

Rebecca Powell, a culturally responsive teaching consultant, saw this contentious regional issue as a prime opportunity to guide the students through a new writing process. In preparation, the youngsters have read several newspaper articles and letters to the editor, and heard from guest speakers.

“They have to have the information before they can write a good piece,” Powell said. “And writing about something that’s real, it’s a much richer writing experience.”

The Williams Co. and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners want to build an underground pipeline through 13 counties to move natural gas liquids from the Northeast to a Kentucky connection that runs to the Gulf of Mexico. The liquids are leftovers from the refining process used to make water bottles, plastics, carpet and other products. Residents are worried about potential damage to their property, pipeline explosions and contaminated water from the fracking process used to extract the gases.

Fourth-grader Hassan Alexander said representatives from the Williams Co. and the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition were helpful in answering questions from his class. “We want to see if it’s a good idea or a bad idea,” he said of the pipeline. For instance, “there will be jobs lost but also jobs made. We’ve seen both sides.”

In recent days, the students paired up to make their own lists of the plusses and minuses, trying to reach consensus. For her part, 10-year-old Chet Gill came down squarely in the opponents’ corner, saying, “It can damage people’s houses, there could be damage to land, and they have to cut down trees.”

Katie Frances, one of the fourth-grade teachers, appreciates how this writing exercise not only enhances language arts skills but also blends in elements of social studies and science. For instance, the youngsters recently studied the regions of Kentucky, and the pipeline route touches several areas of the state. Also, they have talked about the balance of ecosystems and how commercial activity affects the environment, and they reviewed the physical properties of liquids and gases as well as the limestone in the area’s geological structure.

“Whenever you have a project like this, it brings in a whole lot of content in a natural way,” Powell said.

The next step is for each child to draft a persuasive letter or essay. Students this age have written opinion essays in school, but crafting argumentative pieces will require additional skills and effort.

“This is really a lot more in-depth. They have to provide support for their argument – it’s a little different from just giving their opinion,” Powell said. “They have to take a stand, which is often hard. We want them to see that eventually people have to make a decision.”

One point of emphasis will be the students’ sentence structure and word choice, and Powell aims to show them how to strengthen their presentations. “It’s a really good way of helping them to write convincing argumentative pieces, and they’ll want to revise them because they’ll have real audiences,” she said.

As a further outreach to the community, some classes will make posters depicting their position to put up around town. The students also hope to make their case in person at the Capitol in Frankfort.

“We want them to be good citizens who care about the world,” Frances said, “and we want them to understand they can really make a difference.”

Photo: As the youngsters reviewed the pros and cons of the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline, they practiced working out their own position on the controversial issue. (Photo from FCPS)