FORTSON, GA — May 18, 2010 — Disney announced Pam Wetherington's fourth grade class at New Mountain Hill Elementary (NMHE) School as one of four regional winners in the United States representing the South in the inaugural Disney's Planet Challenge, a project-based learning environmental competition for fourth through sixth grade classrooms. A sixth grade class at Iowa's Mediapolis Community School won the grand prize.
Thousands of classrooms in all 50 states enrolled in Disney's Planet Challenge, which is just in its first year as a national program. Since fall 2009, classes across the nation have been hard at work on environmental projects of their choosing. They spent months collecting data, conducting field research, coming up with solutions for problems, promoting community involvement and documenting their efforts along the way.
"It was such a tough decision for our judging committee to make. So many of the projects submitted exhibited environmental solutions grounded in science and teamwork," said Dr. Beth Stevens, senior vice president, Environmental Affairs for The Walt Disney Company. Winners were chosen by a judging committee made up of scientists, environmental experts and educators including representatives from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and WestEd K-12 Alliance.
Wetherington's class, located in a small rural community in west central Georgia, chose for their project to make their school more environmentally-friendly. The students:
· Researched the school's current environmental policy to determine benchmarks as to where they were starting and if it was a viable project
· Interviewed school and county leaders responsible for the most waste-producing areas
· Wrote informational and persuasive essays on why people should be concerned about the environment – used this work as presentations to schoolmates and teachers as to why the school should "go green"
· Created a weekly recycling program for the school which includes collecting, sorting, measuring and graphing on a weekly basis; the students used this data to create their own daily math challenges (To date, the students have recycled 1,515 plastic containers, 617 cans, 1,112 Styrofoam, and 901 lbs. of paper.)
· Wrote and recorded the song "We Will Recycle" to the tune of "We Will Rock You"
· Constructed artwork fashioned into a chandelier with recycled plastic bottles from the weekly recycling pick-ups
· Presented findings to the Harris County Board of Education
· Planted a "Celebration Garden" to remind future NMHE students of the importance of this project and the future of our planet
"As a non-profit organization dedicated to environmental education here in Harris County, Callaway Gardens was excited to mentor and partner with Mrs. Wetherington's class on this project," said Rachel Crumbley, public relations manager of Callaway Gardens. "We are thrilled for the students' success and know that the ripple effects will continue for many years."
The four regional winners will be honored with a $2,500 grant for the classroom teacher, certificates of recognition, Disney prize packages, NSTA memberships and more. Also, the students received an advance, private screening of the Disney movie Oceans that was released on the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.
"I am very thankful that this project has sparked an environmental change in my students' attitudes and habits," said Wetherington. "In addition to the environmental benefits this project promoted, the students were able to master each content area using project-based learning."
"The students tackled a problem that all of us know is important but can't seem to make ourselves do anything about," said Garnett Ray Jr., NMHE principal. "They are setting a great example for our entire school and are continuing to spread the idea to their families, friends, and community. This project has taught the students valuable lessons about our environment, and it also has provided many opportunities for them to advance academically."
Disney's Planet Challenge promotes project-based learning and provides tailored lesson plans customized to reflect the curriculum standards of each state and grade level (grades 4-6). Disney's Planet Challenge for the classroom, together with Disney's Friends for Change: Project Green for everyday life, are cornerstones of Disney's focus to provide the youth of today with the knowledge and resources to positively impact the environment for future generations.