November 24, 2008 - Torrance, CA - Teens nationwide learned the importance of recycling, composting, saving endangered plant and animal species, and cleaning up parks and forests as they took part in the Lexus Eco Challenge, an educational program and contest that inspires and empowers middle and high school students to learn about the environment and take a stand to improve it.
Fifteen teams in 12 states were awarded $10,000 each for their outstanding entries in the "Protecting the Land" Challenge, the first of three initial challenges. This win has also secured each team an invitation to participate in the Final Challenge for a chance at $50,000. In all, $1 million in scholarships and grants will be awarded throughout the year.
Third generation oceanographer/environmentalist and Lexus Eco Challenge spokesperson Fabien Cousteau said he was impressed with the array of the winning entries. "I spend so much time working to open peoples' eyes to the environmental challenges we face today," he said. "Seeing these young people learn so early how important it is that we each do our part is inspiring. When I see this kind of dedication and commitment, I'm encouraged because the next generation is stepping up to be better stewards of the planet than we have been."
For each of the challenges, teams are required to define an environmental issue that is important to them, develop an action plan to address the issue, implement the plan, and report on the results. The Challenge #1 winning teams that best addressed "Protecting the Land" were:
High School Teams:
"The Croc Hunter Crew" - Woodcreek High School - Worked to preserve local wetlands by educating the community through a Web site, video, wetland tours. Participated in "Creek Week" and an invasive species removal event.
"Team EcoGeeks" - South Plantation High School - Started an all-new recycling program at their school and worked to collect plastic bottles, glass bottles and aluminum cans. Volunteered at a 5K run/walk event where the team collected recyclables and distributed information about the benefits of recycling.
"The Westminster CCC" - The Westminster Schools - Focused on reducing waste by composting, reusing and recycling. Initiatives included planning a campus vegetable garden, composting cafeteria leftovers, switching to milk and condiment dispensers rather than disposable cartons and packets, and eliminating paper cafeteria trays. Recycling increased 20 percent.
"Protect the 'Aina" - W.R. Farrington High School - Raised awareness about the negative impact of invasive plant species as well as the benefits of protecting native and endangered plant species. Distributed fliers, developed a Web site and helped with a one-day event where volunteers removed more than 800 invasive plants.
"R.E.A.D.Y.-Set-Go" - The R.E.A.D.Y. Program - Implemented a number of initiatives designed to reduce paper use, increase recycling and reduce energy use. Projects included battery and ink cartridge recycling, reducing paper used in classrooms by laminating and using quarter-sheets rather than half-sheets when possible, and encouraging the school to switch to green cleaning products.
New Jersey (Pennington): "The Composting Comrades" - Hopewell Valley Central High School - Implemented a new composting program on the school's campus and educated the school community about the benefits of composting. Used posters, video and presentations to spread the word.
New York (LaGrangeville): "The Green Admirals" - Arlington High School - Encouraged recycling of water bottles through posters displayed around campus and videos that played on the classroom televisions. Decreased the number of bottles being placed in the trash by more than 30 percent.
Middle School Teams:
Arizona (Tempe): "The Recyclers" - Connolly Middle School - Educated the school community about the impact of plastic bags on the environment and encouraged use of reusable shopping bags. Held a school-wide "Design-A-Bag" contest.
Florida (The Villages): "Go Green Teens" - The Villages Charter Middle School - Encouraged the community to switch from disposable water bottles to reusable water bottles. Circulated a pledge sheet asking people to commit to recycling and using reusable water bottles. ?? Indiana (Carmel): "Mariners" - Creekside Middle School - Increased recycling at school by providing plastic and aluminum recycling bins in the cafeteria, paper recycling boxes in classrooms, and "green tips of the week" in the daily bulletin.
New Jersey (Manahawkin): "S.O.A.K." - All Saints Catholic School - Researched a number of endangered plant and animal species in the community then implemented a variety of programs to protect the species. Initiatives included lobbying to protect the horseshoe crab, developing an educational Web site and activity books, and building bat houses.
New York (Albany): "Gators Going Green" - St. Teresa of Avila School - Implemented a recycling program at the school that cut waste in half. Created a Web site, distributed fliers and held a recycling day for the community.
Texas (Houston): "The Gale Force" - St. Francis Episcopal Day School - Following the destruction of Hurricane Ike, the team raised awareness about the negative impact of deforestation, the benefits of trees, and the need to replant trees lost in the hurricane.
Utah (Holladay): "Green Queens" - Olympus Jr. High - Cleaned up a local park including weeding, removing trash and graffiti, and cleaning the pond.
Wisconsin (Mukwonago): "St. James, Mukwonago" - St. James Parish School - Educated the community about the importance of recycling and worked to encourage the city to install recycling bins in area parks.
"It's tremendous to see the creativity and commitment these students put into their projects," said Lexus Group Vice President Mark Templin. "It goes to show that every community has opportunities to improve its environment and these students are learning that, if they work together, they can make a difference."
The Lexus Eco Challenge, now in its second year, launched on Sept. 15, 2008, and concludes with the announcement of the first place and grand-prize-winning teams during Earth Month in April 2009. Challenge #2, "Water Works," is currently underway and has an entry deadline of Dec. 12. Challenge #3, "Air/Climate," starts on Dec. 17 and ends on Feb. 6, 2009.
In addition to the ongoing contest, the Lexus Eco Challenge also includes educational materials designed by Scholastic to encourage teachers to integrate creative lesson plans into their classrooms to help teach students about the environment. For each challenge, the Web site (www.scholastic.com/lexus) has lesson plans and teacher instructions including questions to help guide a discussion about the current challenge topic, facts about the topic, and guidelines for a specific classroom project. The Lexus Eco Challenge is part of The Lexus Pursuit of Potential, a philanthropic initiative that generates up to $3 million in donations each year for organizations that help build, shape and improve children's lives.