Palmetto Middle School Takes 1st in Fairchild Challenge

The Fairchild Challenge is an interdisciplinary, environmental science competition designed to engage students of diverse interests, abilities, talents and backgrounds to explore the natural world, empowering them to become the next generation of scientists, researchers, educated voters, policy makers, and environmentally-minded citizens. Put a different way, The Fairchild Challenge is a fun and effective way to inspire kids to learn.

Palmetto Middle School was this year’s top overall Middle School out of more than 60 participating schools, winning a $1000 top prize. Students and teachers worked on projects during the entire school year, culminating with the awards ceremony held May 13th.

“The Fairchild Challenge gives us opportunities beyond the confines of the classroom walls,” explains PMS Science teacher Terri Ortiz. “It encompasses art, music, dance, science math, reading, history, research, computer technology, cooking and more.” Fellow PMS Science teacher Jan Hopta added, “There are teachers throughout the school who are dedicated to this extra-curricular endeavor and we see great value in it.”

Ortiz reflects, “It’s a lot of work for both kids and teachers, and sometime you can feel like you are overwhelming your students to do even more, but when they turn in a project that they’ve put their heart and soul into and you see their attitude soar, it’s just awesome!”

In the Biodiversity T-shirt Design Challenge, Palmetto Middle School took both first and second place. First place winner Aidan Levy had this to say about the experience, “I joined the Fairchild Challenge because my 6th grade science teachers, Mrs. Ortiz and Mrs. Hopta were very excited about it, and encouraged us to participate. I love art, nature, and animals, and it was fun to get creative in different ways throughout the competition.  I learned that some pollinators such as the monarch butterfly travel great distances every year in order to pollinate. I also learned that it’s a great feeling to have your own design walking around on a T-shirt.”

Hagit Fefferman, proud mother of multiple award winner Chloe, explained, “It started when she went to Fairchild Gardens and took a photo of a Monarch butterfly and the symbiotic tropical milkweed plant and started to do research on it. When she discovered the Monarch was close to being on the endangered species list, she insisted that they plant a milkweed-based butterfly garden in her backyard to help save the Monarchs.” It is stories like these that allow The Fairchild Challenge to transcend traditional education and take learning to another level. Chloe went on to draw the butterfly scene and win several awards.

Andrew Feldman, second place winner of the Green Cuisine award created a dessert based on recently modified South Florida fruit as part of his challenge. “I made a Mango Orange Tart with Mexican Hot Chocolate Drizzle from my own recipe after a lot of experimentation.” In April, Andrew went head-to-head with other middle school students at Fairchild Gardens where a panel of expert judges tasted dishes much like you would see on the Food Network. “When anyone tastes it, I love to wait to see their faces light up with the kick of the after-taste.”

In all, Palmetto Middle School raked in 12 awards or distinctions, making it the number one Middle School in this year’s challenge. In the prior two years, they had taken third place, then second.

Since its founding in 2002, The Fairchild Challenge has spread beyond South Florida by conducting partner site trainings for dozens of museums, zoos, botanical gardens and other institutions throughout the United States as well as other countries.