Chris Collins
The Baker City Herald

On a recent visit to Baker City, a Chicago woman shined the spotlight on Baker High School students and their teacher who have quietly been conducting studies in their hometown, interviewing community residents and working to improve contaminated properties with little notoriety.

Well ... except for that Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators presented to teacher Megan Alameda in August of 2016.

Alameda was recognized for her work with students in the Baker Technical Institute class at Baker High School that focuses on brownfield cleanup.

“These kids are famous and Megan Alameda is famous,” Laurel Berman told about 20 people gathered at The Little Bagel Shop on Main Street to add their expertise and experience to the work the class has undertaken.

Berman is brownfields coordinator for the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), which is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Berman was joined for the open house by Kari Christensen. She is the Oregon Health Authority’s brownfield/land reuse coordinator.

The women traveled to Baker City to help generate excitement for the brownfield cleanup projects the BTI students have spearheaded. And they brought ideas for securing grant money and tools that will help the class gain more collaboration from the community as they continue their work.

Alameda acknowledges that she and her students have made a name for themselves.

“I am getting to be known for something that is unique,” she said. “I am very privileged and honored to be part of this movement of people who are really just working to make their communities healthier, better and more improved all across the United States.”

And what makes Alameda stand out from others who are doing similar work is that her students are integral to the work that is being done in Baker City.

Alameda has attended two national conferences, one of which her students were able to join her at via computer FaceTime as she told conference attendees about the BTI brownfield work.

Alameda also has driven a school district van filled with students to state conferences in past years.

And she’ll do it again this year when they head to Bend April 11-13 for the 2018 Oregon Heritage Conference where they will talk about their collaborative efforts with the city and the Baker City Downtown organization.

At the end of April they will present their projects to those attending the 2018 Oregon Brownfields Conference in Lincoln City.

“It’s interesting bringing students into the brownfield community,” Alameda said. “(My students) are the only students. Everyone else is an adult professional.

“It’s a huge learning experience for everyone,” she said.

When the class started five years ago, students coordinated a project to clean up and then sell property donated to the school district for student benefit — the former Ostwald Machine Shop at 2430 Balm St. Because of contamination at the site, the property could not be sold until cleanup was complete. The Baker School District received a $200,000 grant to pay for the work and then sold the property.

Money leftover from the project was put back into the class to pay for Alameda’s salary, field trips, scholarships and other costs.

“What you are doing here is really special,” Berman told the group. “I don’t know any other high school that’s doing this.”

See more in the March 2, 2018, issue of the Baker City Herald.