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Disney's Planet Challenge Heroes

Students nationwide are solving environmental issues in their community for Disney's Planet Challenge.
Elementary school students from Granite (Utah) School District visited the state capitol where they presented their program to reduce car idling. House Joint Resolution 5 was passed to encourage alternate forms of transportation.

Through the efforts of a group of fifth-graders from Morningside Elementary School in the Granite (Utah) School District, House Joint Resolution 5 was passed by the Utah House of Representatives, the purpose of which was to eliminate car idling and to encourage walking and biking as forms of transportation. "Travel Wise Get Exercise" was a project entered into Disney's Planet Challenge, a project-based learning competition.

In this annual competition, which went nationwide just last year, students are asked to identify an environmental issue in their local community and come up with a solution that they will manage and document from start to finish. Disney partners with the National Science Teachers Association to ensure the competition promotes excellence in science education and adheres to the specific educational standards of each state. "Educators are always looking for fresh, interesting ways to motivate their students," Disney's Planet Challenge Heroes says Francis Eberle, executive director of NSTA. "Disney's Planet Challenge is a motivational tool for educators that not only promotes science learning but also promotes critical thinking, teamwork and environmental responsibility."

This year the competition, which previously was limited to students in grades 3-5, has been extended to students through grade 8. Clubs and after-school programs are eligible to participate. "There's been a lot of focus on elementary schools and high schools around science and environmental education competition but not a lot of attention paid to it in middle schools," says Christiane Maertens, manager, environmental affairs for Disney. "We got a lot of calls and e-mails about why not in middle school, and this was our response."

Although the projects begin in the classroom, they seem to have tremendous reach, with 100 percent of the entries enlisting community support. Maertens says, "What's fantastic about Disney's Planet Challenge is that many parents donate their time or their resources on the weekends doing things such as building butterfly habitats or doing a local park restoration. Local businesses get involved by providing grants or in-kind resources. Local governments get involved because kids are writing letters to them out of concern for a local animal or a local park or the like with 'Travel Wise Get Exercise.'"

The deadline to enroll this year is Dec. 17, with a final project due date of Feb. 16. For more information, visit