Last Stand of an Ice Age Species

by Gabriella Shell, age 14

Woolly mammoths are an extinct branch of the elephant family that once roamed the Ice Age landscape from from Spain to Canada. In prehistoric times, Asia was connected to North America by a natural landbridge running from what is now Russia to Alaska. And glaciers covered most of modern-day Eurasia and Canada.

Most scientists say mammoths became extinct 10,000 years ago. Nevertheless, some still believe that mammoths roam the Earth to this day, tucked away in the dense taiga, a coniferous forest, in Yakutia, Russia. [read more]

The COVID-19 “Summer Slide” Will Target Vulnerable Students

by Leilani McNeal, 15, and Leila Fletcher, 18

No question about it, a worldwide pandemic changed the 2020 school year. What’s so far unclear, according to new research, is the fallout. Many education experts say the fallout will be very bad, especially for America’s most vulnerable students.

The 2020 school year played out in new and different circumstances. COVID-19 caused school districts around the country to close buildings and pivot where possible to remote learning. And for a number of reasons this causes new concerns among parents and educators.

Academic achievement is the primary mission at Simpson Street Free Press. So, we decided to examine school closings and investigate the ramification of online learning for students during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. [read more]

New Rules Restrict Use of Carcinogenic Firefighting Foam in Wisconsin

by Moises A. Hernandez, age 15

On August 31, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) finalized new rules that restrict the use of firefighting foam containing substances known to cause cancer. Under these rules, such firefighting foam may only be used in an emergency. Notably, the new rules prohibit use for training, which has been a significant source of environmental contamination at sites like the Dane County Airport.

The chemicals in question, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are sometimes referred to as “forever chemicals.” This is due to the fact that these substances hardly break down in the environment. Beyond their longevity, PFAS exposure can increase the risk of bodily disorders and chronic diseases like cancer. PFAS are found in firefighting foam and tools we use every day, including food packaging and non-stick cookware. Due to their danger, Wisconsin has now started to limit the effect of these chemicals in our environment by restricting their use, and monitoring their spread. [read more]

The History and Spooky Legends of Lake View Hill Park­

by Zainab Yahiaoui, age 15

There is a fascinating and ongoing story happening in Madison’s northside. It is a story rich with mystery and local history, and it’s a story you can explore for yourself. Legend has it that Lake View Hill County Park is haunted by spirits. The forest and graveyard behind the Lakeview Lutheran Church next to the park are the site of the most suspicious activity, even though the park was the location of an old hospital. Some say the site is haunted because before the building was built the land was sacred to Native Americans.

As local legend has it, people who visit the area often connect with the dead as they walk through these ancient grounds. People who visit the woods come out with stories of what seems like paranormal activity. These strange occurrences include cold spots, awkward mist in some places, and sometimes they report a feeling of something grabbing them. Despite the rumors swirling around about the haunted forest, Lake View Hill County Park is also known for another thing. A sanatorium was built on the site in 1930. This sanatorium was made to accommodate tuberculosis patients since there was no cure for tuberculosis at the time. [read more]

Robert Smalls Rode from Slavery to Congress
on a Stolen Confederate Warship

by Hanna Eyobed, age 15

Robert Smalls was born in 1839, son of a slave owner. Growing up, Smalls wasn’t aware of the miseries of slavery as he was removed from it. Being the master's son, he was worked less and was allowed inside to play with white children. As he started to grow up, his mother worried he wouldn’t understand the dangers of the world for black people. So when Smalls was about 10 years-old his mother made him work in the fields, witness whipping and live among his own people. As he became more familiar with slavery he decided to rebel. Fearing for his safety, his mother asked the owner to send him to Charleston to work.

After a few years of working odd jobs, 15-year-old Robert Smalls was hired as crew on a ship called CSS Planter, which had been refitted as a warship. For the next few years he learned all about the ship, even becoming the wheelman, a position almost as important as captain. He received only one dollar for every fifteen dollars he earned; the rest went to his owner.

By the spring of 1862, in the midst of the Civil War, Smalls was a 23-year-old man with a wife and two children and desperate to buy his family's freedom. Freedom came at a cost. A cost of $800. After a lifetime of saving, Smalls had barely $100 to his name. But he had an idea. Smalls knew every aspect of running the ship. He knew all the shipping routes up and down the coast. And by coincidence he resembled the captain. He decided to steal the CSS Planter. [read more]

Dane County Announces Largest Land Purchase of 2020

by Alan Cruz, age 15

Dane County officials recently announced an important new land purchase in the Town of Verona.  This will be the county’s largest conservation land purchase of 2020. The 160-acre acquisition adds to several other wildlife areas and natural resource areas near the Sugar River in southern Dane County.

This new purchase includes the confluence of Badger Mill Creek and the Sugar River, which is located at the southern part of the property. The area where these two streams come together (a confluence) is considered important to the ongoing conservation efforts in this part of Dane County. The property, and the various adjoining areas, includes fragile wetlands and other natural habitat for fish and wildlife species. [read more]

New Science May Improve Genetic Diversity Among Critically Endangered Cheetah Populations

by Devika Pal, age 15

In February, researchers at three institutions developed a breakthrough process to potentially conserve the cheetah population worldwide. The institutions involved in making this accomplishment possible were the Columbus Zoo in Ohio, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI), and the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, Texas.

Using in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer, biologists and zoologists were able to deliver two cheetah cubs. In Vitro fertilization is the process by which the eggs of one female are fertilized by the sperm of a male, and the embryo is carried by a surrogate mother. Such a process comes as the cheetah population faces lowering numbers and the risks of inbreeding.

This accomplishment “...really opens the door to many new opportunities that can help the global cheetah population,” said Jason Ahistus, a Carnivore Curator at the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center. [read more]

Cherokee Marsh Regulates Water Flow and Provides Habitat for Native Wildlife

by Mariama Bah, age 13

Cherokee Marsh is home to a variety of flora and fauna that thrive in this unique and significant ecosystem. The marsh is also a very important part of Dane County’s natural environment.

Trees are especially scarce in marshes. Instead, these wetlands boast an abundance of herbaceous plants. Common plants at Cherokee Marsh include cattails, sago pondweed, and hard stem bulrush. This site also supports several rare plant species such as glade mallow, white ladyslipper, and tufted bulrush. Many mammals, reptiles, birds, and amphibians live in the marsh.

The animals and plants that thrive in Cherokee Marsh are a part of a precise and very special ecosystem. There are some invasive species, however, that threaten the native species at the Cherokee Marsh site. The Dane County Land and Water Resources Department (LWRD) has taken efforts to remove carp, which cause destruction by uprooting the aquatic plants and sediment. [read more]

Actually, Metal Does Grow on Trees

by Valeria Moreno Lopez, age 13

Believe it or not, some plants are actually in love with metal. These plants are referred to as hyper-accumulating plants because they absorb toxic but valuable metals from the soil and are able to collect them in their sap. Their roots are basically a magnet that attracts and craves metals, usually nickel. If the stems of these plants are cut open, they produce a neon blue-green sap that actually contains one-quarter nickel. They absorb nickel at an extraordinarily high level.

Scientists have researched nickel-absorbing plants for hundreds of years. The “father” of modern mineral smelting, George Agricola, started the research 500 years ago. In the 16th century, he wrote, “If you knew what to look for in a leaf, you could deduce which metals lay in the ground below.” Alan Baker, a botany professor at the University of Melbourne, has researched the relationship between plants and their soils since the 1970s. Another scientist, Rufus Chaney, an agronomist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, invented the word “phytomining” in 1983. Phytomining refers to extracting materials from hyper-accumulating plants. Dr. Baker helped start the first phytomining trial in Oregon in 1996. [read more]

Chinese Immigrants Built the Transcontinental Railroad When No One Else Would

Despite Their Vital Role, They Faced Prejudice and Discrimination for Decades

by Christy Zheng, age 17

In June of 1867, Chinese workers constructing the transcontinental railroad returned to their tents and refused to work until their wages were raised to a white man’s wage of $40 a month, workdays were shortened to 10 hours, and working conditions improved. That started a labor strike, one of the largest in America history up to that point. For seven days, the Chinese workers remained at the campsite and peacefully protested. It ended with starvation.

When work began on the transcontinental railroad— a paramount effort to connect the eastern United States to the West— top executives of the Central Pacific railroad company exclusively hired white employees. As Central Pacific’s second year of construction on the transcontinental railroad dragged on, however, it became clear there were not enough white laborers to build the railroad. Newspaper ads failed to attract a sufficient workforce. Only 600 men worked on the railroad during that time, which fell far short of the 5,000 that was needed. [read more]

Reggie White's Legacy Is Much Bigger than Just Football

This Hall-of-Fame Player and the State of Wisconsin Had a Special Relationship

by Josepha Da Costa, age 15

Reggie White is one of the best professional football players in the history of the National Football League. Because he was also a passionate Christian, he was known in Wisconsin as the “Minister of Defense.” Reggie White was a committed and generous benefactor for his communities. He lifted up the reputation of the Green Bay Packers and helped create free agency as we know it today.

Reggie White’s football journey started at the University of Tennessee, where he was recognized as an All-American player during his senior year of college. He became well-known for his outstanding play for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1985 to 1992, as well as helping to set in place true free agency for his fellow athletes. [read more]

Homegrown Talent: Maty Wilke Commits to
UW Women's Basketball Team

by Yani Thoronka, age 15

Maty Wilke, a 5-foot-10 guard from Beaver Dam recently committed to the University of Wisconsin Women’s basketball program. Wilke announced her decision to the UW coach Jonathan Tsipis over a facetime call in August.

“I just couldn’t see myself wearing another jersey,” said Wilke. “It’s just being a Badger, wearing red and playing for my hometown fans and turning around the program, it just seemed right. Nothing else really seemed to fit in my head.”

Wilke is considered a top recruit and has received national attention. Over the years, she has remained one of Tsipis’ top recruiting targets. And with so much talent, the list of recruiters is extensive. The first was North Dakota, the summer before eighth grade. Since then, Wilke has received several other offers including all three of Wisconsin’s Division 1 programs and eight other schools from the Big Ten Conference. Through much thought and consideration, Wilke’s finalized list of options came down to UW, Marquette, Minnesota, Utah and Iowa. [read more]

Katherine Davis Chapman Tillman Loved Writing and Forged a Career as a Powerful Journalist

by Yoanna Hoskins, age 15

Katherine Davis Chapman Tillman was born in Mound City, Illinois on February 19, 1870. Although Tillman’s mother was teacher and taught her to read, the family didn’t have money for Katharine to attend a formal school until 1882, when she was 12-years old. That’s when her family decided to move to Yankton, South Dakota. It was during this time that her writing skills started to emerge. And from there, things just took off as Davis Chapman quickly decided she had found her calling--writing.

Tillman fell in love with poetry and at the age of 18 and she published her first poem in the Christian Recorder newspaper. As her love of writing grew, she published essays and poems in Black newspapers and other press outlets. She even published written work in the Indianapolis Freeman, one of the leading Black publications in America at that time.

And that’s where Lillian Parker Thomas Fox, another accomplished Black writer, most likely saw the work of Tillman. The poems and essays of Katharine Davis Chapman Tillman were often confrontational. She did not mince words and she was not afraid to challenge the bad things she saw in society at the time. [read more]