SA team off to good start at Fairchild Challenge


Frank Babicka

Shaler Area High School students placed first in the first part of the Fairchild Challenge at Phipps Conservatory.

The Fairchild Challenge originated in Miami, Florida by the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in 2002.  Phipps became a satellite partner of Fairchild in 2008.

The Challenge was designed to encourage civic engagement in high school and middle school students by challenging students’ creativity.  The Challenge encourages students to investigate environmental issues and attempt to devise solutions to those problems through creative outlets.

There are six high school challenges throughout the school year, with the first taking place on October 22, 2021.  The first challenge was to use recycled materials to create a sculpture of an iridescent creature, a creature whose color changes when viewed from a different angle.  The students must also write an essay on their creation

Shaler Area High School’s team placed first in the challenge after a week of preparation.

“The kids had fun creating their ornaments because it required research, thought and using unique ‘found items’, in other words, recycled or discarded items,” Mrs. Kate Elder, a GATE teacher at the high school and a sponsor of Shaler Area’s team, said.

After the team’s ornaments were finished, Mrs. Elder and Mrs. Christina Palladino, another team sponsor, dropped the ornaments off at Phipps Conservatory.

The kids had fun creating their ornaments because it required research, thought and using unique ‘found items’, in other words, recycled or discarded items.”

— Mrs. Kate Elder

The team was then judged as a whole by four judges who awarded points in three separate categories.  The maximum amount of points that could be awarded was 180.

Shaler Area’s high school team placed first in the challenge, a result that did not surprise Mrs. Elder or Mrs. Palladino.

“We have had a tradition of placing in Fairchild Challenge activities at Phipps, so we were hopeful,” Mrs. Elder said.

The second challenge was to write one page of prose or poetry about a plant that has impacted the writer in some way.  The submissions were due on November 19.

Mrs. Elder is once again hopeful about the team potentially placing.

“Again, we are hopeful because our students work hard on the challenges,” Mrs. Elder said.

Despite the Fairchild Challenge including a competition, the main focus of the challenge remains on encouraging students to feel environmentally and civically responsible.

“These challenges are all based around environmental education, so we are hoping that our students have a better sense of sustainability, the environment and climate change,” Mrs. Elder said.

The third challenge is an optional video essay about what practical actions young people can take to help with climate change.  Shaler Area is participating in the optional challenge.  The submissions were due on January 14.