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Sacred Hearts School students compete at National Geographic GeoChallenge

By Staff | Apr 18, 2019

Sacred Hearts School sent a team to compete in the National Geographic GeoChallenge in Washington State.

LAHAINA – Four eighth grade students from Sacred Hearts School just returned from the National Geographic GeoChallenge in Washington State. This year’s theme was “Tackling Plastic” and how to keep it from entering the ocean.

Madison Becker, Yuna Lee, Rhiannon Garnier and Deyanire Perez Gonzalez were chosen to attend the 2019 Washington State Regional Competition.

The group left for the Mainland on March 28 for this life-changing experience.

“I am so excited that my students were given this opportunity to compete in a challenge about something they are passionate about,” said seventh grade Science Teacher Christine Dunham.

It all began when the group had to choose a waterway stream affected by plastic pollution as part of a classroom project. The four girls teamed up and chose Kahoma Stream in the center of Lahaina Town, mainly because it is near their homes and had a real impact on their lives.

The girls shared that areas surrounding Kahoma Stream were being polluted by excessive development of homes and businesses, and overwhelmed with homeless people, who use the stream to wash their clothes and dispose of their garbage.

Madi remembered, “When we were younger, we would go and explore with friends by the stream. Now it is no longer safe and super dirty. I wish I lived when my mom was younger, because we are now banned from going near it.”

The runoff from Kahoma Stream eventually leads to Mala Wharf. That area is home to “Baby Beach,” rumored to be given that name because of its shallow waters – perfectly suited for babies and small children to play in – but unfortunately also where plastic trash and other debris end up.

As a solution to this plastic pollution problem, the team hosted a Mala beach cleanup and left with bags of debris that included loads of micro-plastic and bottles.

Instead of tossing the plastic trash and it becoming landfill, they got creative and began making art pieces.

“I thought art was a creative way to raise awareness about plastic pollution and something kids could enjoy doing while learning something,” Rhiannon commented.

This solution of turning plastic trash into artwork landed the girls an invitation to compete in the prestigious nationwide GeoChallenge competition.

Teams were chosen from all over the country to submit their science project to a panel of judges. The award for winning regionals was $1,000 and the opportunity to attend the national event in Washington, D.C.

The girls worked a few hours each week starting in November 2018 leading beach cleanups, interviewing over 100 people who agreed to stop using single-use plastics and continuing with their plastic art creations, including a heart made from recycled straws, a multimedia wave made three-dimensional with plastic scraps and a beach landscape with fish made from bottlecaps.

They also created a map of the surrounding Kahoma area, charting out areas impacted by plastic pollution to share with the judges along with a script.

Before leaving on the learning journey, Yuna shared that, “Aside from wanting to win, of course, I want kids to find their own way to have a voice and bring awareness about something they are passionate about and find their own creative ways to solve problems.”

The girls did not advance to the national competition, but they were awarded a Certificate of Achievement for the Best Community Impact Project and a lasting awareness of the harms of plastic pollution.

Deyanire said, “I have more concerns about my use of plastic and encourage my mom to buy less of it.”

According to Dunham, this project was 100 percent student-led. They did it all on their own, actively engaged in relevant, real-life issues.

Just recently, she caught one of her students using a plastic fork and asked, “Are you going to keep that fork for the rest of your life? I hope so.”

Dunham will be teaming up with Vicki White, The Science Lady to offer a two-week science camp open to the public over the summer.

Visit the school website at www.shsmaui.org or call (808) 661-4720 for more information.