Thursday, May 23, 2013

Our Awards Ceremony For The 2012 - 2013 Florida Keys Fairchild Challenge

Wow! What an end to The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort's inaugural year as a Satellite Partner of The Fairchild Challenge! We were hoping to get a good turnout of enthusiastic students, parents and teachers at the end-of-year awards ceremony, and we certainly did - the Murray Nelson Center was packed:

The Murray E. Nelson Government and Cultural Center - a great venue here in Key Largo for our ceremony.

Our first awards went out to elementary school students. One of this year's Challenges was to make masks of endangered animal species out of plants and recycled materials. Students showed off their winning masks on stage for everyone to see:

I especially like the student in the roseate spoonbill mask on the far left.

Here is a close-up of our first place mask winners from each grade level division:

On the left is Angeline de Paula's Aruba burrowing owl (Pre-K - 1st), on the right is Alex Sebben's American bald eagle (2nd - 3rd), and in the center is Hunter Slate's leatherback turtle (4th - 5th).

Elementary school students were also recognized for the drawings they did for the "Plants In Peril" Challenge. Mia O'Steen is the artist behind the first place entry entitled "seashore ageratum:"

Jack Tripp, winner of the 2nd-3rd grade division of the endangered species poetry Challenge, treated the audience to a stellar performance of "The Sea Turtle Rock," his original melodic poem about protecting the sea turtle:

One brave dude!

The Challenge with the most participation was the School Garden Challenge. I know these kids had a blast working on the gardens at their schools - they were so proud giving us tours of them when we visited the schools to see them ourselves.

School garden Challenge winners.

On to the middle school...  Students painted banners of nature in their neighborhoods:

The slogan on the banner on the right reads: "Don't Be Mean, Keep It Clean! Keep The Keys Beautiful For Everyone!"
The slogan on the banner in the center reads: "Be A Tree Hugger, Not A Tree Cutter!"
And the banner on the left... shown below and was the first place banner, done by students at Treasure Village Montessori. As an FYI to those who don't know Key Largo, the human-like figure on the bottom-right is not someone drowning and/or trying to catch jellyfish, but rather the "Christ of the Abyss Statue," one of Key Largo's most popular dive destinations.

"A World Underneath The Waves - The Florida Keys"

Hallie Rutten reads a selection from her first place Historic Florida Challenge journals, which tell the story of a girl who lives in Key West but sails away one day to make a new life for herself on an abandoned outlying island:

After the students received their awards, teachers and administrators came to the stage to accept awards for the overall Challenge competition, which is based on point totals. Each Challenge is worth a certain number of points, so totals are determined by which Challenges are completed and judges' evaluations of submissions for these Challenges. The first place elementary and middle schools each received $500 to use towards environmental programs, while the second place schools received $250. These financial awards were made possible through the support of generous local community members. Below is a photo of teachers from the four winning schools:

Elementary School - 1st Place: Plantation Key School, 2nd Place: Ocean Studies Charter School
Middle School - 1st Place: Treasure Village Montessori, 2nd Place: Key Largo School

Finally, the overall winning school was recognized. This school scored the most points out of all elementary and middle schools involved and won, in addition to the recognition, the opportunity to work with world-renowned artist Xavier Cortada to bring one of his Participatory Eco-Art projects to the Keys!

And the winner is... the elementary school at Plantation Key School!

I think everyone here at The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort would say this first year of bringing The Fairchild Challenge to the Florida Keys has surpassed all our expectations. We certainly couldn't have done it without the hard work and support of our local teachers, students, school administrators, and community members. The awards ceremony definitely ended the year with a bang and we're looking forward to the 2013 - 2014 school year!

Rick Hederstrom
Associate Director

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