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Del Val students garner data from Rosemont headstones


The blue-and-gold Delaware Valley High School varsity jackets mixed incongruously with ancient, gray tombstones as Stacy Grady’s Environmental Science students collected data on human longevity.

Rosemont Cemetery in Delaware Township, N.J., is the destination for the two November forays, each one by a different class. Students divided into teams, with a clipboard at the nucleus of each. Some groups just did a terse, business-like reading of birth and death years off the grave markers, while others mingled sentimental commentary with their efforts (“This one was just a baby. How sad.”).

“Students will look at the data they collected to calculate mortality rate for each gender during each time period (pre-1900 and from 1900 on) and create a survivorship curve,” Grady explained. “Survivorship curves look at the likelihood of death as an organism ages, and we can talk about how that varies before and after 1900.”

They will also use the data to determine whether the population would have increased, decreased or remained stable, based on what proportion of the sampled people died before or after they were old enough to reproduce.

Grady said the study and analysis “will give students an insight into the cultural, societal and environmental factors that impacted the population in the area before and after 1900. They will be able to connect things such as wars, epidemics, the development of modern medicine, and women’s rights to the survivorship of people in the area over time.”

Student Josh D’Amato was surprised at the infant mortality in the class’ 400-person sample. So was Morgan Kania, who said, “It’s sad how many died at zero years old” in the 1800s.

The class has already studied survivorship and population dynamics of other species, so it’s a natural extension to apply that to humans. That is particularly apt “because many of the environmental issues we have in the world are a direct result of the explosion in the human population and the increase in resources required to sustain that population,” Grady said.

The lesson “gives students a chance to collect real data, from a real place, analyze it, and draw conclusions from it. As unusual as it is, it’s real science,” she said.