While the Project Polar Bear Contest is named, obviously, for bears, they were not the focus of a winning conservation effort by a team of local students.
"We wanted to teach kids how to be more environmentally friendly and teach lessons they can build on to be eco-friendly for their lifetimes," Jenna Whitney said.
Ms. Whitney is a sixth-grade science teacher and sponsor of the Ice, Ice Savers team from South Allegheny Elementary School in the South Allegheny School District.
The team of 14 sixth-grade girls was recently announced the winner in the middle and/or high school category of the contest, which drew entries from 48 teams throughout the U.S. and Canada. The girls will receive a $750 cash prize to continue their recycling efforts.
The winning team is following in the footsteps of a South Allegheny High School team that won the contest in 2011. Those students won a trip to the Hudson Bay area of Manitoba, Canada, to see polar bears in their natural habitat.
This year's three-month competition challenged teams of young people to design and carry out long-lasting projects to reduce carbon dioxide, such as motivating their community to use less and recycle more.
The annual contest is sponsored by the nonprofit Polar Bears International, a polar bear conservation group headquartered in Bozeman, Mont.
Team member MacKenzie Duval said she learned that using less energy helps reduce carbon emissions, which keeps sea ice frozen longer. That, in turn, helps polar bears in their quest for food. Member Mariah Andrejchak touted the value of planting trees and using bicycles for transportation. Kennedy Lawson advocated recycling and cutting energy use by watching less television. Jocilyn Shamber said she hoped the community would use reusable bags, walk instead of drive and create less garbage.
The team's name is a variation of the "Ice Ice Baby" song by Vanilla Ice with lyrics the team wrote about being conservationists.
The South Allegheny project began in mid-October. Students chose their focus from a list of suggestions offered by Polar Bears International.
Their fundraising activities included creating reusable water bottles with the slogan, "One Small Change: Polar Bears Saved," which they presented to district staff and elementary students.
The team held a Hat Day during which students paid $1 to wear a hat at school. The funds were used to buy silicone bracelets, which they then sold for $1, netting the group $750.
Students also hosted a Polar Bear Night on Jan. 17 with activities and educational outreach that focused on polar bear conservation and climate change. The event drew about 30 adults and an equal number of students.
"I was amazed that students ages 11 and 12 were motivated to make the changes they did," said Leah Knickerbocker, program manager for Polar Bears International. "They did an excellent job with educating their community by going into classrooms and community nights."
The team will use its winnings to raise funds to purchase recycling bins for the school. Members also will hand out reusable shopping bags at a local grocery store.
"It helps us with the planet and polar bears," team member Kaylie Payne said.
Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: email@example.com. First Published March 7, 2013 10:15 AM