Guest post by teacher advisor Pamela Carpenter
Special STEMs, a team led by advisor, Pamela Carpenter, took an agricultural approach to the Lexus Eco Challenge and showed that it’s possible to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and cut down on food packaging to reduce landfill waste, soil erosion, and air pollution. This earned their team a winning spot in the Lexus Eco Challenge, a national STEM-themed, teamwork-based contest for grades 6 to 12 created by Scholastic and Lexus.
Read on for more information about Special STEMs and for a Q&A with the winning team’s teacher advisor Pamela Carpenter.
The Special STEMs team planted and harvested vegetables, fruits, and herbs at the Frisco community garden, hosted a fresh produce drive to create nutritional awareness, and started a vegetable garden project in Guatemala and seed projects in Uganda. They also strove to demonstrate that people with disabilities are not limited by their challenges but are able to be leaders in their communities and make vital contributions toward sustainability. A unique aspect of the team: five of 10 were from the school’s special needs program (called Functional Academics); the other five are general education students. Utilizing their Best Buddies chapter resources, they reached out to other campuses district-wide to hold similar produce drives to benefit Frisco Family Services. Because of that outreach and community impact, the city declared November 6 Special STEM Day.
Q: Tell us about your project’s issue and why your team thought this was an important subject.
A: Our team believed that by taking the agricultural approach we can decrease emissions, cut down on food packaging to reduce landfill waste, reduce soil erosions, and help with air pollution. Through community gardening, we were able to satisfy these goals along with three of the UN sustainable development goals: Zero Hunger, Sustainable cities and communities, and Responsible consumption and Production. We selected this topic because we wanted to ensure that the people in our community and around the world are receiving not just food to fill their stomachs but healthy produce that will fulfill their nutritional needs. In addition we wanted to demonstrate to the world that people with disabilities are not limited by their disability but are able to be leaders in their community and make vital contributions towards sustainability.
Q: We know you’re likely thinking about the Final Challenge. Could you tell us about your ongoing efforts with regard to spreading the word about community gardening and taking the agricultural approach?
A: Through social media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, we continuously spread the word about helping those in need particularly with gardening and helping other schools set up their own gardens. We have partnered up with the city of Frisco to help expand our community garden and adding even more fresh fruits and vegetables. Our students are taking on a huge part in moving the garden to a city park that has special equipment for children with special needs and disabilities. The students are starting the garden from the beginning and adding to the produce being developed. In addition, we are spreading the word globally which will soon be shown in our final challenge! The students are very excited and have come up with some excellent ideas in spreading the word globally. They have presented a phenomenal idea to our principal here at Lebanon Trail High School to start a new garden in which they are currently working on all the details of creating a garden at their school and seeing a new tradition of how gardening can be used to help others and solve world hunger issues.
Q: How has this project been a learning experience for you and your students?
A: The Special STEMs group has all felt that the project has brought them closer together and they have learned about each other’s unique and special talents that helped bring the project together beautifully. They learned how important nutrition is in everyday life. As a teacher, I have personally witnessed the students making better choices when selecting lunch and the snacks they choose. The students, specifically the Functional Academics students, ask me every day to go out and garden and want to visit the shelter. The first part of the challenge is over however, they randomly bring fruit and vegetables to school from their home and they ask to deliver it to the shelter. I love their spirit for learning and desire to help others lead a healthy lifestyle. They are already a very special and unique group and they have opened their heart even more and have a passionate desire to feed the hungry and educate their peers including other Best Buddies organization on the importance and how they can contribute to the environment to reduce landfill waste while also meeting nutritional needs. They all are amazed at what started as a small task could impact a much larger community. We all have learned some valuable lessons that will impact our lives forever and are excited about expanding.
Our team believes that by taking an agricultural approach we could decrease emissions, cut down on food packaging to reduce landfill waste, reduce soil erosion, and help with air pollution. Through community gardening, we were able to satisfy these goals along with 3 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals: Zero Hunger, Sustainable Cities and Communities, and Responsible Consumption and Production. Our team believes that by taking an agricultural approach we could decrease emissions, cut down on food packaging to reduce landfill waste, reduce soil erosion, and help with air pollution. Through community gardening, we were able to satisfy these goals along with 3 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals: Zero Hunger, Sustainable Cities and Communities, and Responsible Consumption and Production
Photo courtesy of Special STEMs, Lebanon Trail High School, Texas