Kehoe-France Students’ Eco Project Earns Trip to Washington, D.C.
As published in The Advocate on June 7, 2019.
When four Kehoe-France School students embarked last fall on a class project focused on plastic pollution, they never expected that it would one day earn them a free trip to the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C., to share their discoveries with some of the brightest minds in science.
But sure enough, in late May, soon-to-be seventh-graders Duc Hoang, Rishab Prabhu, Nick Rezza and Ginny Robinson traveled to the nation’s capital for National Geographic’s annual GeoChallenge and presented their thoughtful plan to eliminate plastic pollution from Earth’s waterways.
The students, known as Team Pollution Solutions, joined 15 teams of young environmentalists from around the country, competing for a chance to win $25,000 and support from National Geographic staff and explorers.
This year’s GeoChallenge theme, Tackling Plastic!, aligns with National Geographic’s Planet or Plastic? initiative – a global commitment to reduce the amount of single-use plastic that reaches the oceans by raising awareness, advancing innovation and education and inspiring action.
Kehoe-France School’s involvement began with a flyer that was passed along to Alicia Ward, the school’s technology director and middle school design teacher.
“I just thought: ‘Well, this will be a really good project,’ not realizing it would go as far as it did,” Ward said.
Her students first examined a specific geographic area afflicted with plastic pollution, and then began developing ideas to fix the problem that’s causing it.
Pollutions Solutions chose the Yangtze River in China and created a plan for a mesh dam that captures drifting plastic, which then can be removed and recycled.
Rishab said his team worked on the project two to three times a week, during their hour-long design class. They used pliable, Crayola Model Magic materials to construct a model of the dam’s foundation, and clever objects to set the scene.
“We used fake people to show us constructing the dam, and we used rocks and grass to show the land area around the dam,” said Rishab, noting that he and his teammates also designed presentation slides and practiced showcasing their solution before an audience.
Ward served as the coach of five Kehoe-France teams that advanced to the regionals portion of the GeoChallenge. Pollution Solutions earned a spot in the national competition.
The first day of the national GeoChallenge was Monday, May 20, and it included interactive workshops meant to help the participants prepare for their presentations and evaluations on the following day.
“We learned new techniques to make our project better and ways to improve it,” Nick said. “We learned about mapping, scaling, social media, photo and video tips, and public speaking. Then we had time to improve our projects.”
During the semifinals, Pollution Solutions presented their plan to a panel of discerning National Geographic judges.
“We had worked very hard and practiced many times on our presentation,” Rishab said. “We were very confident in our project and thought we would definitely win.”
Pollution Solutions, however, wasn’t one of three teams chosen to advance to the finals, but members were still able to benefit from the experience, both academically and beyond.
“I was really impressed with how well they took the news of not making the top three. (The trip) became a little vacation for them,” Ward said. “They told me: ‘We’re OK with it, because now the pressure’s off and we can just relax.’”
Since all of the students participating in the GeoChallenge were divided into teams called pods, they were able to develop friendships with like-minded kids from coast to coast.
“With our pods, we went to the (Smithsonian’s) National Zoo, saw the White House, went to many of the memorials and the Natural History and American History museums,” said Nick. “Every night, we had dinner together and had a fun time. We had a game night, a fun dinner at the zoo and a gala.”
Rishab said he took selfies with National Geographic officials.
“The vice president of NatGeo put his brooch on my coat and asked me to come back next year,” he said. “I would definitely want to try again next year.