Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Fairchild Challenge 2012 - 2013

This past August, we began our inaugural year as a Satellite Partner of The Fairchild Challenge, and as we approach the end of the school year, I thought it would be fun to reflect and catch you up on all that we here at the Gardens have been up to in this area. The Fairchild Challenge is based at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and was created to "foster interest in the environment by encouraging students to: appreciate the beauty and value of nature, develop critical thinking skills, understand the need for biodiversity and conservation, tap community resources, become actively engaged citizens, and recognize that individuals make the difference." This mission fits in well with our own and the program makes it possible for us to add an educational component for local schools, so we can educate students about the importance of plants and the greater natural environment to people.

If you recall, we had tested the waters of such a partnership the previous year when we facilitated a single Challenge (the Olympic Wreath Competition), at a single school (Key Largo School), with only a few teachers (Ms. Bobbi Burson, Ms. Sandra Prew, and Ms. Elena Delgado). For a refresher on this, you can search "olympic wreath" in the box above to see all the posts related to this competition. Everyone involved considered this to be a great success, and so we decided to commit to becoming a Satellite Partner of The Fairchild Challenge for the 2012 - 2013 school year.

Facebook announcement regarding the Olympic Wreath Competition Global Top 10 submission from Key Largo

We contacted local elementary and middle schools in the area to see how many teachers would be interested in participating in the program, and we had a wonderful response. Five out of the six schools in the Upper Florida Keys plus one homeschool family decided to participate, for a total of about 27 teachers and over 400 students participating. Fairchild offers five Challenges for elementary schools and ten Challenges for middle schools. We were considering starting off easy and only offering a few Challenges for teachers to choose from but ended up deciding we'd go all in and offer up every Challenge.  I'm glad that we did because although it was more work, it gave teachers more options to do Challenges that fit with their curricula.

Teacher Information Meeting held at The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort to kick off the school year.

As the school year got underway, I provided both in-person and e-mail support for teachers to address any questions they had about the Challenges and gave presentations in classes regarding certain Challenge topics that overlapped with my area of expertise (ethnobotany). I also worked with Ronnie (our Director of Education) to coordinate judging sessions for Challenge submissions and champion the program in the local community.

Local historian Jerry Wilkinson and I spoke to students about history and ethnobotany in Ms. Nicky Laak's class at Treasure Village Montessori.
One of the many judging sessions taking place at The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort

As Challenge submissions began coming in as deadlines approached, we, along with the judges, were consistently amazed at the quality and creativity of the work done by our local students. Submissions included endangered species animal masks and t-shirt designs, banners of nature in students' neighborhoods, journal entries of life in southern Florida during the 1800s, interviews of elders regarding their traditional use of plants in the past, school gardens, and environmental action projects such as developing and implementing a school-wide recycling program. Here are some photos of both in-progress and completed Challenge submissions:

Endangered species animal masks in Ms. Jan Mulvihill's class at Key Largo School

Endangered species animal masks in Ms. Diana McGuirk's class at Treasure Village Montessori

Students crafting a banner of "Nature in your Neighborhood" in Ms. Diana McGuirk's class at Treasure Village Montessori

Showing off the produce of the vegetable garden established by Ms. Jan Mulvihill's class at Key Largo School

Ms. Jan Mulvihill and part of her class who worked so hard on creating such a bountiful garden

All teachers and students at Ocean Studies Charter School were involved in putting together this native plants butterfly garden

Showing off the plant labels, which identify the plants and provide a drawing of the butterfly they attract

Treasure Village Montessori students present about their cancer fighting vegetable garden at Mariner's Hospital on Earth Day

Students take the lead with their new recycling program at Treasure Village Montessori

The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort's 1st Annual Awards and Recognition Ceremony for The Fairchild Challenge will be this Wednesday, May 8th from 5:30 - 6:30pm at the Murray Nelson Government Center here in Key Largo. Students and teachers will be individually recognized for all their achievements and there are even monetary prizes to 1st and 2nd place middle and elementary schools! Feel free to stop by and see all the completed winning submissions in person, or if you can't make it, look forward to seeing some of the winning submissions featured in my next blog post.

Certificates and medals will be awarded to all first, second, and third place winners at the Ceremony!

Rick Hederstrom
Associate Director

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