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Learning from tragedy: Teacher crafts lesson plan from gas disaster

Project helps Lawrence students understand gas disaster

by Lisa Kashinsky, Eagle Tribune

For Shaddai Vargas's students, the gas explosions and fires that rocked the city Sept. 13 were difficult to comprehend.

Many of them were immigrants, mere weeks into the school year and still adjusting to life in a new country, confused and scared to see flames and destruction in the city they were beginning to call home.

“They couldn't believe it at the beginning. They didn't understand what was happening,” Vargas said. “They wanted to go back to their country.”

Vargas, an art teacher at Lawrence High School, came up with a project to help his students understand how over-pressurized gas lines could cause homes to catch fire — and how to potentially prevent it from happening again.

He submitted his idea to the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest, a nationwide competition designed to pique students' interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through projects that help local communities.

After being selected as one of five Massachusetts finalists in November, Vargas recently learned his project was selected as the state winner. So far he's won a Samsung tablet for being a state finalist, $20,000 for classroom technology for being a state winner, and the chance to compete for the national prize — $50,000 in Samsung technology and classroom resources for finalists and $100,000 for the ultimate winner.

“It feels awesome,” Vargas said. “It's a big responsibility, representing the state. I'm going to do my best to make it happen.”


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