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Cheektowaga Central Middle School teacher headed to Siberia for research project

An eighth-grade science teacher from Cheektowaga Central Middle School bested 340 other applicants for the chance to be a researcher in the Arctic this summer.

The stint for Stan Skotnicki – which lasts from June 16 to July 24 – will be in northeastern Siberia, also known as Cherskiy, Russia.

“The area has a pretty unique ecosystem compared to the rest of the world,” Skotnicki said. “Mainly shrubs and grasses, but not many trees. We’ll be taking various soil samples and harvesting vegetation and finding out its effect on permafrost.”

In February, Skotnicki went to a teacher orientation in Fairbanks, Alaska. Skotnicki was also in Alaska last year, studying how vegetation affects layers of permafrost by assisting Mike Loranty, an assistant professor at Colgate University.

Skotnicki’s research trip is organized through POLARtrec, which is funded by the National Science Foundation. The program links teachers with scientists for Arctic and Antarctic studies. This year, there’s a handful of teachers going to Alaska – like Skotnicki did last year. Another teacher will go to Greenland, a couple of people will be on vessels in the Bering Sea and one will go around Antarctica, Skotnicki said.

Skotnicki is set to begin his journey to the Arctic on June 16 when he heads to Potsdam, Germany, for an international conference on permafrost. Then, Skotnicki will start making his way to his final destination in Siberia, located 40 miles from the Arctic Ocean.

The physical science and earth science teacher will study the way vegetation affects permafrost with a team of about seven people. They are scheduled to stay at the Northeast Science Station, which has a lab, cots for sleeping and even Wi-Fi.

The researchers will be examining old roots and other organic material in the frozen ground, Skotnicki said. As the permafrost thaws, this organic material decomposes and is released into the atmosphere as methane gas or carbon dioxide, which are both greenhouse gases that accelerate climate change.

Skotnicki’s students are “pretty excited” about his trip.

“They had a lot of questions,” he said. “How cold will it be? How long will it take to get there?”

This research will be taught next year by a few teachers within the Cheektowaga district.

It fits perfectly in the earth science curriculum, life science and biology, Skotnicki said.

Dennis Kane, superintendent for the Cheektowaga Central School District, said it’s great to have a teacher who has real life experience in science.

“The kids identify with it and it accelerates learning in the classroom,” Kane said. “It makes learning so much more relevant. He’s truly a scientist – and a dedicated scientist.”

He hopes Skotnicki can inspire kids to become scientists themselves, Kane said.

“If somebody gets excited about science, are they going to concentrate and take some classes like physics and hopefully go on to college and study science,” Kane said. “Stan’s just great to have around.”