Fifth Grade’s Sea Turtle Project Named National Finalist

Congratulations to the Mount Madonna School (MMS) fifth grade class: their environmental education project, ‘Don’t Be A Nurdle, Save the Sea Turtle’ was awarded top honors and a $300 prize at the recent Santa Cruz Earth Day, and named a National Finalist in the Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge!
‘I had a lot of fun speaking to the Earth Day judges and teaching people about our project,’ said fifth grader Sara Bautista. 
‘At first I was a little nervous speaking with people I didn’t know,’ shared classmate Corey Mensinger. ‘But I got used to it, and when we won first prize, I felt very brave and confident!’
In addition to producing an educational film (written, filmed, edited and produced by the students), the class also created monofilament fishing line canisters. These canisters are being distributed to ocean visitors and are used for collecting waste fishing line, in an effort to keep it from becoming a biohazard in the marine ecosystem. 
‘Our project has many ways of making a difference in our school, our community, in the state and in the world,’ wrote fifth grader Kira Kaplan (in a grant application for which the project was ultimately awarded $1,000, see Fifth Grade Receives Disney Friends for Change Grant for Global Youth Service Day) ‘We are educating people about how their everyday choices make a difference in turtle survival. Knowing how your seafood is caught can reduce ‘bycatch’ of turtles. We want people to know that when you buy and use a single-use item or something with a lot of packaging, you are adding to the plastic in the ocean.’
‘Each year the fifth grade environmental project helps students to become active, passionate citizens,” commented teacher Jessica Cambell. “This year I really felt like ‘global citizenship’ was reached with this project, as students worked exceptionally hard to raise a record amount of funds to help educate Indonesian children living in the areas where sea turtles lay their eggs. After meeting with Dr. Simona Bartl of the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories and learning about the educational Sea Turtle Camp, my students felt compelled to help these children, much as they are passionate about helping the sea turtle. Students used their own money to buy school supplies and raised more than $3,000 from sales of their educational DVD. They also organized and staffed a raffle at their Satori Cellars presentation, as a way to raise additional support for the Indonesian Sea Turtle Camp.”
In the addition to their educational and outreach efforts, the students also engaged in service activities: coordinating a clean-up of the MMS campus and two clean-ups at Santa Cruz County beaches. 
‘As I observed the students’ increased level of creativity, involvement and cooperation around this project, it reaffirmed how age-appropriate this curriculum is,’ commented fifth grade teacher Nate Rockhold. ‘It was established years ago by [the late] teacher Sri Gyan James McCaughan, and later supported by Jessica. I’m now finishing my second year with this program and am honored to help carry on this effort. It is really clear that as the students became increasingly engaged with the project, it was less about ‘school work’ and more about making a difference in a topic they really care about.’
‘Sea turtles are a keystone species and a crucial part of the ocean ecosystem,’ shared Kaplan. ‘If these turtles were to become extinct, then the species they eat will overpopulate. Sea turtles keep our ocean in balance, and by helping them, you’re helping us, too. Turtle species are like living dinosaurs, and have survived for millions of years. It’s amazing that they can migrate more than 3,000 miles in a single year — or dive hundreds of feet deep, even though they are air breathing animals.’
‘The Santa Cruz Earth Day award of first place among the participating local schools is a great experience and probably the award the children cherish the most,’ said Cambell. ‘I believe they like this so much because they are interviewed by judges, speak about their project without my help and it has fairly immediate results when they go on stage to receive the big check.
‘Earth Day is a blossoming event because each student starts out nervous to speak publicly, but as time progresses they find their groove and become even more passionate and articulate as the public responds so positively to their presentation and their work. Time and time again patrons of our booth speak with me after speaking to the children about how extensive the project is and how well-spoken the students are. Many teachers and members of the public express they are inspired by the children.’