Posts tagged ‘climate change’

April 26, 2013

Speak Out: Middle School Challenge #5 of the Fairchild Challenge at Phipps

by Melissa Harding

Cartoon 1

During the latest challenge of the Fairchild Challenge at Phipps, participants were asked to speak up about an important environmental issue affecting the region. They were given the option of either writing a letter to the editor or creating a cartoon to illustrate their point. Participants in the letter writing challenge were asked to think critically about why their chosen problem affects western Pennsylvania and ways that local citizens can help mitigate its impact. They also were asked to include informational facts that they found through their research. The cartoonists were required to create a cartoon composed of original student artwork and to write a 200-word essay accompanying their drawing. In total, 277 middle school students participated in this challenge. There were so many entries that the judges were working in overtime to find the winner! All of the entries were wonderful, tackling such hard topics as fracking, pollution, water run-off and green energy.

Cartoon 2In the essay category, the winning entry was from a student at Shaffer Elementary concerned about invasive species. Citing zebra mussels, garlic mustard and emerald ash borer as examples, this student not only outlined the reasons that these organisms are spreading, but also gave many great examples of ways to eliminate these intruders. From reminding boaters to scrape their hulls to pulling out garlic mustard before it seeds, this letter was positive and provided an empowering message to its readers. “As you can tell, all of these invasive species are dangerous and harmful to the ecosystems of western Pennsylvania! So let’s stick together and take action to eradicate these invaders!”

The second place essay, from a student attending Sewickley Academy, tackled the topic of pollution in the Ohio River, one of the top ten most polluted rivers in America. Citing sewage overflow as the main culprit, the author describes the many plants and animals who make their homes along or in the river and why these are adversely affected. “In the Ohio River there used to be at least 80 species of mussels that were recorded to be healthily living. But now, there are only 50 species left, out of which five are endangered and close to extinction.” Her solution, increased funds for projects related to the decrease of sewage overflow, is a good idea for both the environment and the people who live near and drink from the river.

Cartoon 3In the cartoon category, the winning entry was submitted by a student from Mellon Middle School regarding global warming. Her cartoon depicts two children walking along wearing shorts and eating ice cream, both talking about how unbelievable it is that winter used to be cold. Her accompanying letter cites the fact that Pennsylvania is the third in the nation in terms of global warming pollution. “If everyone sees the current problems, then we might have a fighting chance of turning the whole thing around. It might take a decade, two or probably more, but it can be accomplished.”

The second place winner, submitted by a student from Shaffer Elementary, tackled the issue of zebra mussels crowding out native mussels in our regions three rivers. Her cartoon depicts a zebra flexing its muscles and dressed in a military uniform, saying “Atten-hut! Time to invade western Pennsylvania!” while streams of mussels jump out of a ship and into the water. Her accompanying letter warns of the endangerment of native mussels and recommends that boaters clean their boats to help fix the problem.”Boaters of western Pennsylvania need to take action now to prevent Zebra mussels from causing more damage than they already have. All parts of your boat should be thoroughly washed each time you pull it from the water. You should also inform others about the zebra mussel issue and tell them to wash their boats before it is too late!”

While there can only be three winners for each portion of the challenge, all of these students are winners for learning how to articulately express their environmental concerns to the general public. Students from all three winning schools will be interviewed on the Saturday Light Brigade this Saturday, April 27, at 10:35am. The Saturday Light Brigade can be heard every Saturday morning on WRCT 88.3 FM. It also streams live at where the interview will be archived under Neighborhood Voices.

The above photos were taken by Kate Borger.

April 5, 2013

Opinion Papers: High School Challenge #5 in the Fairchild Challenge at Phipps

by Melissa Harding


During the latest challenge of the Fairchild Challenge at Phipps, students were asked to either write a film review based on the documentary Dirt! The Movie or an opinion paper on the environmental impact of their food choices. The first option concerns Dirt! The Movie, a film that investigates the importance of soil in our lives. Students were asked to write a brief synopsis of the film and critically evaluate its message; they were asked to think about soil-related issues in western PA and how they personally relate to soil. The second option asked students to look at the relationship between food and the environment through the lens of soil health, carbon footprint, the effects of pesticides and climate change. They were to critically investigate the effect that their own, personal diet has on the environment and to discuss how they would change or defend their current eating habits. Each paper required students to cite at least five literary sources and draw some hard conclusions about their personal choices. This is not an easy task for anyone, but over 60 students participated in this challenge; the entries they submitted were thought-provoking to say the least.

The first place winner of the film review, from Moon Area High School, found creative and moving ways to connect the plight of dirt in the film to that of our region. Talking about the effects of mining and poor water management in western PA, the author cites a local bike trail as a specific example. The colorful, orange puddles that dot the trail belie the iron oxide found in the water and soils from years of strip mining. The author writes, “Degraded dirt equals degraded people; we must learn to embrace dirtiness so that we may live.”

The second place winner, from North Allegheny Senior High School, wrote about how the film helped her to understand a side of the conservation movement that she had never considered. “This documentary proved to me over and over that dirt is critical to life. It contains the minerals essential to life and there are thousands of life forms in just one handful of dirt. Like one of the scientists in the documentary said, “Dirt feels pain but we just cannot understand its language’. ”

The first place winner of the opinion paper, from Gateway Senior High School, wrote about the energy required to grow the food that we eat. She looked into the carbon footprint made by farming machinery, processing and transportation. Investigating the carbon footprint of an apple, the author cites the cost as 1.67 kW of energy per pound, which does not even into account the energy required to cook and prepare the fruit. She also talks about food waste as another problem with the current food supply; 200,000 tons of edible food is wasted daily. After conducting the research for this paper, the author concluded that she would try to eat less packaged food and try to grow some of her own this coming summer.

The second place winner, from Moon Area High School, wrote about the importance of soil health and the effects of fertilizer on the environment. Looking into the dynamic impact of soil on the food supply, the author writes that fertilizing poor soils both hurt the water supply and contribute to the emissions of greenhouse gases. She goes on to say that higher levels of carbon dioxide in the air actually slows down plant growth and will ultimately hurt the food supply for future generations. Focusing on the problem of fertilizer and pesticides, the author resolved to eat more organic foods and try to avoid genetically modified offerings.

While there can only be three winners for each portion of the challenge, all of these students are winners for learning more about the impacts of soil and food on the environment. To quote one of the winning entries, “The more people who are educated, the greater the possibility that change can happen.”

The above photo was taken by Christie Lawry.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 199 other followers

%d bloggers like this: