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Iowa sixth graders win Disney's Planet Challenge

Students rally the community and bring national attention to the plight of the Northern Bobwhite.

Thinking big can reap big rewards. Julie Schnedler had only taught sixth-grade science for a year at Mediapolis Community School in Mediapolis, Iowa, before entering her 66 students in the inaugural Disney Planet Challenge. It was a leap from her previous efforts to engage students on the environment.

"We had done some hands-on recycling, but nowhere near what the Disney project offered," Schnedler said.

Schnedler thought it would be an interesting way to boost the science curriculum in the small, rural district, but it turned out to be a lot more. The project, "Operation: Save the Quail," won the national grand prize and focused attention on the plight of the Northern Bobwhite, a quail whose numbers have thinned dramatically in recent decades. For their hard work, Mediapolis students were rewarded with a four-day trip to Disneyland and were featured on the Disney Channel. Their story even captured the attention of "Good Morning America".

"Winning the Disney Challenge is the result of not only hard work by the sixth graders but the support of our community. The sixth graders have been named 'Citizens of the Year' for their project but clearly this is a celebration of our total community effort. Mediapolis takes great pride in everything they do! Great students, great school, great community!"
- Frederick G. Whipple, Superintendent, Mediapolis Community School District

"Mediapolis and the county as a whole is just very proud of these kids," Schnedler said. "With the help of local media attention to our project, the word has gotten out a lot more than we expected."

The students formed strong bonds with community groups and learned some lasting lessons about care of the environment and the value of setting and meeting goals, she added.

"They learned the importance of teamwork—the fact that they may be young but they can still make a difference in their society," she said. "I don't think any one of them thought they could achieve anything as big as what we did."

Schnedler said the school's fifth-grade students are already buzzing about what they might do as sixth-graders in the Disney Planet Challenge this fall. She's also heard from potential competitors in other districts.

"The word has definitely spread," she said. "I think Iowa as a whole will have a lot more entries than last year." What's her new project going to be? "That's top secret," she said.


<a href="">Operation: Save the Quail</a>

<a href="">Helping classrooms through</a&gt;

<a href="">Disney introduces 2010-2011 Planet Challenge</a>

<a href="">List of 2010 Winners and Runners Up</a>