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Pollinating, Petitioning, & Repurposing: How Students in the UNLESS Contest are Protecting Our Planet

What can you do to make a difference for wildlife? That’s the question Philadelphia Zoo has posed to teachers and students throughout the Delaware Valley for over a decade in its annual Albert M. Greenfield Foundation UNLESS Contest.

During the course of the school year, students tackle a conservation challenge in their lives, inspire others to join them, and work together to make a difference. The 2023-2024 participants added to the legacy of over 500 classes and 70,000 students that diverted thousands of pounds of trash from landfills, saved over a million gallons of water, created and installed recycling programs for their schools, created habitats for important pollinators including bees, birds and bats, and advocated to local, state and national leaders on behalf of these initiatives.

Here are this year’s top three winners in each grade category:

Grades K–2

The Mifflin Park Golden Guardians at Mifflin Park Elementary School came out on top after partnering with Red Creek Wildlife Center to help them rebuild their center. They repurposed plastic bags to make bracelets and T-shirts to make toys for local rescue dogs. They created videos and an art activity, helped maintain their school garden and compost bin, and participated in cleanups to increase awareness for the Golden Lion Tamarin.

In second place, we have The Going Green Team at Dorothy L Bullock Elementary School who focused on saving energy in the name of Golden Lion Tamarins. They enhanced their understanding about sustainability and climate change and then put it into action! They wore superhero capes to spread awareness, completed a water bottle repurpose challenge, conducted home energy audits, and hung bird feeders.

In third place, Grade 2-124 at Cardinal John Foley Regional Catholic School created lapbooks of biomes, focusing on how to grow plants for pollinators, provide shelter and water for local species, and conserve water. They displayed their projects for the community to learn about the McCord’s Box Turtle.

Grades 3–5

The Turtle Titans from Dallas Intermediate School came out on top after building an outdoor Environmental Education Library, partnering with the North Branch Land Trust, and writing 5 books to raise awareness for the McCord’s Box Turtle. They participated in wetland clean ups, created a website, and inspired the North Branch Land Trust to research Eastern Box Turtles on their preserves.

In second place we had The Moore Golden Gardeners at Moore Elementary. This team partnered with Northampton Area Public Library to create a seed lending library, and partnered with Plant a Row to reduce food waste and have the community donate extra produce to those in need. They held a seed swap and native plant sale at school with proceeds going to Save the Golden Lion Tamarins.

In third place McKinley Vibe and Imagine at McKinley Elementary School addressed littering concerns within their community by collaborating with a company called Trex to recycle waste and turn it into a bench for their school garden. Students also wrote a letter to their state representative in hopes that the Philadelphia plastic bag ban could reach the entire state.

Grades 6–8

In first place, The Pollution Eradicating Ladies at Ocean Township Intermediate designed a sustainable method of agriculture and prioritized educating the community on local sustainable food production. Through a partnership with Fulfill, they shared their designs in workshops and made several systems for food banks around the state.

In second place, the Tweenage Turtle Ninjas at Parkview Elementary realized the turtles in their community pond didn’t have enough room on docks to sun themselves, so they raised money to buy materials for docks, native plants, and “no littering” signs. They raised awareness for the McCord’s Box turtle, and about microplastics in water while also holding clean up days and planting gardens.

In third place, Team Tamarin at Newtown Middle School created an app to serve as a database of recycling best practices in the name of the Golden Lion Tamarin. They created a contest, commercials for the school news, and repurposed batteries to create a seed spacing planting tool.

Grades 9–12

Wings of Change at Upper Dublin High School came out on top and created a biophilic space in their cafeteria, set up a shared food table, pushed to switch to metal utensils, incorporated a compost program, and spread information about these projects and their impact through social media. They attended highway cleanups, held stakeholder meetings with the school board, and attended an Upper Dublin EPA advisory board meeting to voice their ideas and concerns.

In second place we had MSHS UNLESS at Maple Shade High School, who collected over 167 wood pallets to create benches, birdhouses, and bat boxes. They enlisted local businesses to create a pollinator corridor of native plants and are working with their district to accomplish a plastic straw ban. They used billboards, social media, news outlets, T-shirts, and reusable bags and stickers to create awareness about Indian White-eyes, waste, and habitat.

In third place, Reach Environmental STEM Camp at Reach Cyber Charter School created a book and gave a presentation to elementary, middle, and high school students. They held a “bat day” at school, built bat boxes, and designed a t-shirt fundraiser in partnership with PA Bat Rescue.

Interested in being a part of next year’s contest or know a teacher in your life that might be?

Get more information on the UNLESS Contest and sign up here.

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