Falmouth teens compete for $50K prize
FALMOUTH — Like a well-oiled, albeit ecologically friendly machine, members of the Emission Commission at Falmouth High School have churned out a wealth of information designed to educate middle school students.
They've also won a cool $10,000 and a final spot in the national Lexus Eco Challenge.
The five juniors – Chadwick Prichard, Ben Snowdon, Ryan Gao, Tyler Evers and Alyssa Yeung – all share a love of science and math and participate in the school's Science Olympiad. And now, as part of their winning project, they teach fifth- and sixth-graders about the effects of vehicular and industrial pollution.
While the commission's mission to make the public aware of the dangers and consequences of pollution is rooted in a passion for science and the environment, it was ignited late last year by the Lexus competition through Scholastic.com.
One of 425 middle and high school teams to enter, the Emission Commission learned the end of February it had won the $10,000 award and was one of 24 high school finalists competing for a $50,000 grand prize or one of seven $30,000 first prizes. Winners of the top prizes will be notified by mid-April.
Of the $10,000 the students have already won, $1,000 will go to the group's faculty advisor, science teacher Andrew Njaa, for classroom supplies or educational programming, $2,000 goes to the school and the remaining $7,000 is split between the five team members.
So far, the commission has given its Power Point presentation to three middle school classes.
"We really tried to keep it on a level they understand," Evers said.
In addition to the 37 slides, they incorporate hands-on learning for their students by helping them create 3D molecules of carbon dioxide and other pollutants, Snowdon said.
"We tried to stay unique," Prichard said. "One reason we started the program here was because there was no community between the high school and the middle school. Now they can learn about the environment and get a feel for what we're doing up here."
"It feels good we can teach them about something, elaborate on something they know about and educate them on pollution," Yeung added.
After each lesson, they give students a survey to track the effectiveness of the presentation and analyze ways to improve it. They plan to offer the program at the Children's Museum of Maine in Portland, using a game they designed to help children learn.
Now that the commission is a finalist, its members face a new challenge: to expand their localized focus to a national one. But the group doesn't seem too concerned.
"(Pollution) is a national issue –it applies to anyone," Prichard said.
While their middle school education component, dubbed the Environmental Communication and Awareness Program, is their focus as they head for the finals, commission members said they are determined to spread awareness at the high school and community levels, too. Recently, they held a Carpool/Ride the Bus Day, which they admitted was not too successful, in part because it was not well publicized. Yeung said she thought offering incentives next time might help, while Evers said the emphasis should probably be on carpooling, rather than taking the bus, because the response would be better. They would also like to create an exhibit for the library and the high school and present information on their group to the Falmouth School Board.
But at the center of the commission is its Web site, EmissionCommission.com, designed by Evers, which includes an extensive blog, with posts, pictures and video clips maintained daily by Prichard.
"We've heard from one person from Oregon," Prichard said.
The members, who obviously have a lot of fun with the project, recognize that their legacy must be more than what they've begun; it must inspire those middle schoolers they are now helping educate to carry on their work in the coming years.
"The program will stay at the school," Prichard said.
And with prospects of even more cash prizes to come, it is sure to be well-funded.