Santa Monica students prove they’re the best at keeping things green

By Stepan Sarkisian

SMMUSD Sustainability Coordinator Austin Toyama with Seho Heo, a first-grader at McKinley Elementary, and Yunho Heo, an eight-grader at Lincoln Middle, who won 2nd place in the middle school Project Green Challenge.

Upholding its commitment to environmental advocacy, Santa Monica High School achieved a 21st place finish in its first year participating in the Project Green Challenge. The international competition featured 758 schools across 85 countries with participating students acquiring points by engaging in daily environmentally-themed challenges.

Each challenge centered around an issue related to sustainability and tasked students to examine their individual ecological footprints in a variety of ways including measuring water and food consumption, carbon impact and making ethical fashion choices. Along with answering questions, challenges required participants to submit photos, videos, essays and make social media posts to promote what they learned.

Theo Richards, a third-grader at Franklin Elementary, and August “Augie” Williams, a second-grader at McKinley Elementary, shared their favorite events during the challenge.

“My favorite challenge was the computer game where you put the best electricity sources in the right place,” Richards said.

“My favorite challenge was the alternative energy online game and quiz,” added Williams. “I liked the game and learned about different energy sources. I also liked going outside to take the best nature photo I could.”

Project Green Challenge is held annually by Turning Green, a student-led global organization advocating for environmentally sustainable and ethical choices for communities. The goal of PGC, as described by the organization, is “to touch lives, shift mindsets and equip students with knowledge, resources and mentorship to lead the change on campuses and in communities”.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District also sponsored the Go Green
Challenge for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. In each competition, winners were determined by the number of daily challenges completed and subjective criteria like creative problem solving and thoughtfulness.

“The participation in this was great to see and we’re thankful for it,” said Austin Toyama, SMMUSD sustainability coordinator. “The students’ commitment to learning about environmental issues and sustainable living is important for their health and that of our communities and the planet.”

The 60 students that participated responded positively to the daily challenges, as the competition added a level of joy during a time when life isn’t as interactive.

“The most interesting thing I learned is that trees can be so big around in circumference,” Williams shared. “I liked walking around my neighborhood trying to find the biggest tree and measuring with a measuring tape.”

The challenges also stimulated educational conversations among families of students and encouraged some to make long-lasting impacts to their households.

“We’ve made environmental sustainability a big focus of our family. We pick up beach trash and enjoy and protect nature,” said Jane Schmitz, who is Richards’ mom. “Our boys are super-duper pro-electric car and anti-gas car. They think that gas cars are yucky. We are also much more consistent about turning off lights when we are not in the room. The boys are often leaving us in the dark in a room with their zeal to flip the switch.”

Another parent, Julie Williams, added, “After Augie completed the “Vampire Power” challenge and went around the house identifying all of our plugged-in electronics, we did find many things that could and should be unplugged until needed and have tried harder on this issue.”

Having completed all the challenges, the students were asked if they planned on continuing to help and learn about the environment.

“Yes, I want to keep on learning and helping the environment because I like nature and want to protect it,” Williams said.

Richards kept his answer simple with a resounding, “Probably.”

Winners of the Fall 2020 (K – 5) Go Green Challenge!

1st Place: Isla Sroka – Grade 3, Franklin

2nd Place: Arabella Feldman-Milliken – Grade 5, Roosevelt

3rd Place (4-way tie):

Theo Richards – Grade 3, Franklin

Delilah Prager – Grade 5, McKinley

August (Augie) Williams – Grade 2, McKinley

Seho Heo – Grade 1, McKinley

Winners of the Fall 2020 Project Green Challenge (Grades 6 – 8)

1st Place: Sahana Lindsey – Grade 7, John Adams Middle

2nd Place: Yunho Heo – Grade 8, Lincoln Middle

Winners of the Fall 2020 Project Green Challenge (Grades 9 – 12)

1st Place: Team Happy Sprouts (Halie Matsui, Citli Carrera Arenas and Giselle Avila-Hengsathorn) – Grade 10, Samohi

2nd Place: Olivia Rizzo – Grade 9, Samohi

3rd Place: Team Green Teas (Sofia Garban, Joaquin Martinez Devis, Samantha Ramirez and Keira Yanez) – Grade 10, Samohi

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