The Fairchild Challenge is an interdisciplinary, environmental science competition designed to engage students of diverse interests, abilities, talents and backgrounds to explore the natural world, empowering them to become the next generation of scientists, researchers, educated voters, policy makers, and environmentally-minded citizens. Put another way, the Fairchild Challenge is a fun and effective way to inspire kids to learn.
Palmetto Middle School was the top middle school this year in a competition of more than 60 participating schools and won top prize of $1,000. Students and teachers worked on their projects throughout the school year and the Fairchild Challenge culminated with an awards ceremony on May 13.
“The Fairchild Challenge gives us opportunities beyond the confines of the classroom walls,” said Palmetto Middle School science teacher Terri Ortiz. “It encompasses art, music, dance, science, math, reading, history, research, computer technology, cooking and more. It’s a lot of work for both kids and teachers, and sometime you can feel like you are overwhelming your students to do even more. But when they turn in a project that they’ve put their heart and soul into and you see their attitude soar, it’s just awesome!”
“There are teachers throughout the school who are dedicated to this extra-curricular endeavor and we see great value in it,” said Jan Hopta, also a science teacher at Palmetto Middle.
In the Biodiversity tee-shirt Design Challenge, Palmetto Middle School took first and second place.
“I joined the Fairchild Challenge because my sixth grade science teachers, Mrs. Ortiz and Mrs. Hopta, were very excited about it and encouraged us to participate,” said Aidan Levy, who won first place for his tee shirt design. “I love art, nature and animals, and it was fun to get creative in different ways throughout the competition. I learned that some pollinators such as the Monarch butterfly travel great distances every year to pollinate. I also learned that it’s a great feeling to have your own design walking around on a tee shirt.”
Hagit Fefferman said the competition stimulated her daughter, Chloe, to create a backyard butterfly garden and, as a result, she became a multiple winner in the competition.
“It started when Chloe went to Fairchild Garden and took photos of a Monarch butterfly and the symbiotic tropical milkweed plant, and started to research it,” said Fefferman. “When she learned the Monarch was close to being placed on the endangered species list, she insisted that they plant a milkweed-based butterfly garden in her backyard to help save the Monarchs.”
Chloe went on to draw the butterfly scene and won several awards. It is stories like these that allow the Fairchild Challenge to transcend traditional education and take learning to another level.
Andrew Feldman, second place winner of the Green Cuisine award created a dessert based on recently modified South Florida fruit as part of his challenge.
“After a lot of experimentation, I made a Mango Orange Tart with a Mexican Hot Chocolate Drizzle from my own recipe,” he said.
In April, Feldman went head-to-head with other middle school students at Fairchild Gardens where a panel of expert judges tasted dishes much like you would see on the Food Network.
“When anyone tastes it, I love to see their faces light up with the kick of the after-taste,” he said.
Palmetto Middle School raked in 12 awards or distinctions in this year’s Challenge, making it the number one middle school. In two preceding years of Challenge competition, the school won third place and then second.
Since it began in 2002, the Challenge has spread beyond South Florida as Fairchild conducts partner site training for dozens of museums, zoos, botanical gardens and other institutions throughout the United States and other countries.
PALMETTO STUDENT WINS NATIONAL WRITING AWARD
Hannah Richter is not your average teen. An 18-year-old senior at Palmetto High School, she recently won a Scholastic Art & Writing National Gold Key for Writing Portfolio, an award that only eight people in the U.S. received this year. Richter is the only winner of the award from Florida since 2001. She will accept it on June 11 at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
Richter has already been accepted to several colleges, but she is waiting to hear from her favorite school. Any college would be honored to have a student like her in their ranks and I say this after spending just a few minutes talking to her. She is clearly a focused and driven spirit.
“Writing for me is about finding my personal truth and understanding life through my mind,” she said. “Not only do I learn about life by reading other people, but also by reviewing what I’ve written. I’ve always lived half in my imagination and half in the real world, so poetry for me is a therapeutic way for me to bring my two halves together.”
Richter’s path to the writing award started with her creative writing teacher Jason Meyers.
“Besides helping my writing in inexplicable ways, he encouraged all of his students to submit their work to Scholastic,” she said. “I did a lot better than I expected.”
Below is a stanza from her favorite winning poem entitled Induced Winter:
At age thirteen They gave you Woolen sweaters To conceal the Ochre bark Which had begun To creep over the hollows Of your sanitized Palms Even now You tug on the hems Of your sleeves Obscuring Your freckled wrists Whose azure veins Are the silhouettes Of aspens at dusk
She shows grace and maturity beyond her years.
“I don’t fit into any particular clique or group at school,” she said. “I am friends with everyone and connect with the parts of people that don’t have a label. I appreciate the variety and differences in life. I feel like I am out of the box and my own little species, but I celebrate not being typical and that’s a good thing. I find the happiness of not fitting in.”
As for writing plays in the future, she said, “I definitely plan to keep writing for myself. Where writing leads me professionally is up to the universe.”
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