Great ideas grow as students across the US participate
<a href=#HAWAII>Hawaii Fourth-Graders revive storied site</a>
<a href=#PIZZA>Kentucky science students grow better pizza ingredients</a>
<a href=#OUTDOOR>Indiana students create outdoor learning lab</a>
<a name="HAWAII"></a><h1>Reviving a Storied Site in Hawaii: Tracy Foyle's Fourth-Grade Class</h1>
Kahakai Elementary School sits across the street from Keolonahihi State Historical Park in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. The park is one of the cultural treasures of the islands, a place where Hawaiian royalty once lived, but it lies overgrown and closed to the public.
As part of their Disney's Planet Challenge project last year, students of Tracy Foyle's fourth-grade class were interested in learning about animals that live in the historic site, such as Hawaiian Hawks—known locally as "ios" — and other endangered species. Foyle arranged a visit there but her students failed to find any of the animals they had studied. Instead of being discouraged, they vowed to restore the habitat.
"It was kind of a sad situation," Foyle said. "The kids decided to take on a job and save this place and bring the animals back. They all became specialists on their animals and what they needed to survive."
By chance, a representative of Blue Planet Foundation — a nonprofit group that promotes sustainable energy in Hawaii— came to class a week later and talked about carbon footprints and the impact of global warming. The speaker told the children that Keolonahihi Park would eventually wind up underwater if warming trends weren't reversed. Students began to ponder the larger issues of environmental duress. "Now it wasn't just saving the animals," Foyle said. "It was about saving the park."
The class embarked on an education push for the community, using PowerPoint presentations, plays and posters to get their message out about reducing carbon emissions. Students grew native plants near the school to transplant later at the park, one way to eventually draw endangered animals back.
What did the kids take from the project? Foyle rattled off the lessons: "Not to be afraid to ask questions. To be a true advocate for this planet, for these islands. To feel like they have the power to do something."
<a name="PIZZA"></a><h1>Grow Your Own Pizza, Hold the Boxes</h1>
Keri Dowdy's science students in rural Mayfield, Ky., started with a simple goal for their project: Reduce waste in the cafeteria. Achieving it was a bit complicated, although it had the side benefit of being scrumptious.
Dowdy's fourth-graders were all part of Sedalia Elementary School's coveted "environment team," which requires members to submit a 3?-page application. They chose Pizza Day, the most popular lunch of the school week, for a weigh-in of leftover food, boxes, plates and other refuse. It came to 120 pounds of trash for a school of 320 kids.
How to cut down on that load? Dowdy's students decided to grow their own pizza garden, complete with fresh tomatoes, peppers, onions, oregano, basil and cilantro. They set up a portable greenhouse so they could tend to the plants during winter months, and got tips from a neighboring nursery owner.
After the vegetables and herbs were ready, the class made organic pizza dough, bought cheese and pepperoni, and cooked pizza for their schoolmates. To cut down on waste, some team members brought in reusable items for the meal, such as cloth napkins. The tally at the end of lunch was less than one bag of trash.
"Hands-on projects like Disney's Planet Challenge fi t right into our curriculum," Dowdy said. "Our science test scores are some of the best in the county and they improve each year."
Since the Pizza Day demonstration, Dowdy's students have gotten 10 schools in their district to recycle pizza boxes. Project members have already turned their sights to more ambitious projects, like composting lunch leftovers, with visits from local farmers scheduled for tips about making rich soil.
Dowdy's team was thrilled to be named a state fi nalist for Disney's Planet Challenge. They received a package of Disney items on the last day of school.
"They were beside themselves," Dowdy said. "They were so excited."
<a name="OUTDOOR"></a><h1>The Outsiders: Jeff Stanley's Fourth-Grade Conservationists</h1>
Jeff Stanley's fourth-grade students in Franklin, Ind., decided they wanted to make an outdoor learning lab for Disney's Planet Challenge, but it was only part of their larger plan to integrate nature into the curriculum. After conducting exhaustive research, students emerged with a 9-point blueprint called "Going Green" that over time will reshape Clark Elementary School's grounds into a living exhibit and refuge.
"It was an incredible amount of planning," Stanley said, but added that his class was more than up for the task. "I had students who asked daily to stay in for recess to help."
Students consulted with master gardeners to map out plantings, and they tapped adults to come in after school to help with the creation of fi ve garden beds. To purchase materials, they held a walkathon and other fundraising events. The project culminated on Earth Day, when the school community planted over 50 trees around the building, grouped in groves for nut trees, hardwood trees and bottomland-loving species that were arranged near a creek.
"We wanted it to be all plants and trees indigenous to here," Stanley said. "We worked with the state Department of Natural Resources to get it right."
Through the project, students honed their skills in science, citizenship and language arts. Some drafted letters to President Obama, the governor of Indiana and several state senators to state their views on the environment.
Stanley's class and other school members have already completed other parts of the "Going Green" plan, including the construction of bat habitats with help from the district's high school shop classes. Plans are on tap for butterfl y gardens and the development of wetlands around the school's creek.
Stanley said his current class is eager to enroll in Disney's Planet Challenge this year.
"The number one thing is the motivation it provides for the students," he said. "When you know you're doing things to change your surroundings, it connects them to their world. They believe in it."
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