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Improving the Community One Student at a Time

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The Pizza Patrol (photo wecanchange.com) The Pizza Patrol (photo wecanchange.com)

SMS students participate int he Siemens Challenge

THE YOUNG PEOPLE OF BONNER COUNTY will inherit a community significantly different from the one their parents inherited. Deforestation, endangered species, polluted air and water and an increasing population are among the many issues that threaten on both a local and global level.

The good news is, many of our kids are more than willing to learn about the environment and its challenges and eager to find ways to help. This year, the seventh grade students at Sandpoint Middle School got a chance to demonstrate their willingness by participating in a national competition.

“Our district decided to continue the higher level science program into middle school,” says Linda Navarre, a science teacher at SMS. “Two teachers were chosen to work on this over the summer. They chose the ‘Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge’ as a way to enrich our program for the kids in advanced science. It’s the first time any school from Idaho participated.”

The “Siemens Challenge” is a K-12 sustainability challenge where teams of two, three, or four students work with a teacher to identify an environmental issue in their community and develop a plan of action to implement changes. Top prizes include a chance to appear on Discovery Network’s Planet Green, a share in thousands of dollars in savings bonds, a Discovery Adventure trip and more. Of course, the real prize is the healthier, more environmentally sound communities that result from the minds of creative students.

Last year’s top honors went to Team Dead Weight, made up of three middle school students from West Branch, Iowa. The team’s goal was to get the word out about the dangers of lead wheel weights in vehicles, and to help phase out this hazardous material from the tire industry. The city and school districts were convinced and agreed to phase out lead wheel weights in city and district owned vehicles. In addition, the students teamed up with several legislators to develop three bills proposing to phase out the harmful metal.

If you think this is a pretty big accomplishment for 12 and 13 year-old kids, you’re right. And local Sandpoint seventh graders took on some big challenges of their own. “At first we had no idea what we were getting into,” admits Perky Hagadone, a science teacher at SMS. “It was work we’d never done before. It was grown up work. Everything about it pushed the kids far beyond their comfort level.”

Not only did the students have to identify an environmental issue in their community, they then had to research it, develop a plan, collect data and share the results.

A group called The Chargers decided to research the problems caused by the millions of cell phones tossed in landfills each year. “What happens if you throw them away,” explains team member Nate Loutzenhiser, “is they let off Co2 and other toxic gases.” The team put up fliers around the school to educate students about the problem. They also put recycling boxes in the middle school and high school where students are beginning to put their old cell phones.

The Pizza Patrol decided to look into the recycling of pizza take out boxes. The group was amazed to discover that 4.2 billion boxes are discarded each year. “They can’t be recycled because of the grease stains,” says group member Madi Sleyster. “The grease prevents the different layers of the cardboard from separating during the recycling process. So we tried to persuade our local pizza parlors to add a piece of wax paper in between the pizza and the box to prevent the grease stains.”

The kids were discouraged to find that most managers were not willing to add another step to their already “tight” schedules. But after more research, the team discovered that by simply tearing off the greasy parts of the box, the remainder could be recycled. Their goal now is to have pizza box suppliers print a brief message on each box to alert consumers to the fact that they can simply throw away the greasy parts and recycle the rest.

The three Pizza Patrol members were thrilled to recently find out they’ve been chosen as state winners. Each student will receive a $50 gift box of green products and the school receives a one year membership to the Discovery Education Channel—a prize worth two thousand dollars. It allows access to a huge amount of science related content including streaming video and lesson plans. The team will have to wait a little longer to find out how they fare at the national level.

“We might not have impacted our community that much,” says Madi, “but at least we got the word out about this problem.”

The same can be said for the many other teams who researched the feasibility of recycling household batteries, plastic produce bags, vending machine bottles, motor oil, fast food bags and ink cartridges. The group Plastic Pencils Prevail discovered that one hundred million pencils are produced each year in the U.S. and that thousands of trees could be saved by simply switching from traditional wooden pencils to reusable mechanical ones.

And a few of the projects hold promise of having some lasting impact. Team Gasbusters took a careful look at kindergarten schedules and bus routes and came up with some suggestions to save our school district both gas and money. The board of trustees is giving serious consideration to trying out the kids’ proposal.

The Green Garden Growers decided to help improve the school lunch program. “Our project is to plant and maintain an organic garden at the middle school,” says team member Faith Nelson. “We’ll harvest the food and serve it to the students.”

With much planning, and the help of master gardeners Gail Burkett and Janae Dale, the garden idea is ready to move to the next step. “So far we’ve raised over two hundred dollars to pay for our soil, seeds and garden tools,” says Adriana Winget. “All the cedar wood to build the bed was donated to us and we plan to start it this month.”

Perky Hagadone sums up the best thing about the Siemens Challenge. “The kids became much more environmentally aware. I’m definitely going to do it again next year.”

Kudos to all those seventh graders trying hard to make our community a better, healthier place.

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Author info

Dianna Winget Dianna Winget lives in Sagle and writes a lot of fiction and non-fiction for the magazine market. She's currently working on a children's book scheduled for publication in the Spring of 2011.

Tagged as:

sandpoint middle school, education, Environment, Lake Pend Oreille School District, SMS, Linda Navarre, Perky Hagadone

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