South Allegheny students win conservation contest again

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Two teams of students in the South Allegheny School District won prizes in this year’s Polar Bears International contest.

It was the third and fourth time teams of students from the district won prizes in the competition.

Polar Bears International is a group devoted to the worldwide conservation of polar bears and their habitat. The group encourages students to devise ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to help preserve sea ice.

This year, a group of 15 12- and 13-year-olds from South Allegheny Middle School won the Great White Bears (large group) prize in the contest, a grant of $750.

Leah Knickerbocker, assistant director of education for the international organization, said the grants are to be used to continue the teams’ conservation programs.

This year, Ice Ice Savers, the middle school team, focused on reducing carbon dioxide emissions by carpooling. According to a Polar Bears International press release, at the start of the project, 86 percent of students rode with their own parents to activities and practices. By the end of the project time, 43 percent of students were riding to events with their parents, and 57 percent were carpooling.

The entire seventh grade helped with the project. The Ice Ice Savers team also raised awareness of polar bear issues and funds, by selling bracelets made from old magazines and T-shirts.

Miss Knickerbocker said the same team won the contest last year when members were students at South Allegheny Elementary School. 

Both last year and this year, the Ice Ice Savers beat all other middle-school students and high school students in the large group category of the contest all over the United States and Canada, Miss Knickerbocker said.

“We’re always impressed with what students at a young age can accomplish,” she said.

“We are really, really excited, and we’re really looking forward to what we can do as a [next] project,” Ice Ice Savers team mentor and teacher Brianne Mayer said.

She said the team hopes to get people in the community to walk to baseball and softball games once the weather gets warm, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

This year, the Green Dream Team, a group of five 11- and 12-year-olds from South Allegheny Elementary School and their mentor, teacher Jenna Whitney, won the Cubs (small group) category of the contest, and will receive a $500 grant to continue their conservation program.

During their “1,000 Days of Green,” project, the elementary team asked classmates to log things they were doing to help the environment. Within three weeks, they had recorded 1,000 such actions.

The Green Dream Team also planned and hosted an environmentally friendly holiday dinner to which guests brought their own drinking glasses, reusable plates and silverware; they ate a meatless organic meal.

The team also collected quarters for polar bears, gave presentations to third-grade classes about what third-graders can do to help polar bears and the environment, and held a “Power Down” day at school.

A group of three South Allegheny High School girls had won Polar Bears International’s grand prize in 2011.

That year, all four runner-up teams were flown to the San Diego Zoo to see polar bears, and the South Allegheny High School girls were flown to Churchill in Manitoba, Canada, to see wild polar bears.

Miss Knickerbocker said Polar Bear International went to cash prizes last year because giving grants to students to continue their conservation efforts is the most important thing, and flying contest winners to San Diego and Churchill created too much of a carbon footprint.

Anne Cloonan, freelance writer:

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