Seed of Flame: Middle School Project Named as Finalist and Awarded $10,000 in National Environmental Challenge

The Seed of Flame, an environmental STEM project undertaken by a team of seventh grade students at Mount Madonna School (MMS), is one of 16 finalists nationwide to receive a $10,000 prize through the 2016-17 air and climate Lexis Eco Challenge.

Now in its tenth year, the national Lexus Eco Challenge is intended to encourage middle and high school students in developing and implementing environmental programs that positively impact their communities. Participating student teams can enter either or both of the initial challenges addressing environmental issues related to land and water and/or air and climate.

Contest sponsors Lexus and Scholastic chose 16 finalists nationwide for each challenge. Each team receives $10,000 in grants and scholarships, and is invited to participate in a final challenge, with a chance to win one of two $30,000 grand prizes. In addition, eight first-place prizes of $15,000 will be granted, with a total of $500,000 presented.

“Mount Madonna’s seventh grade has taken on this project in response to our changing climate,” said MMS science teacher Katrina Leni-Konig. “As part of the final challenge, we are engaging social media and art activism to raise awareness about local impacts, and to catalyze global action.”

The students have launched a social media challenge on Instagram, @seed_of_flame. The public is invited to post pictures of themselves or others hugging a tree, with the hashtag “#hugatree”. Select photographs will be compiled into a public art exhibit.

The challenge will be used to raise money for the organization, Trees for the Future, through the student’s online fundraising campaign at The goal is to raise $640 which is enough to help a family in Africa grow and maintain a forest garden, providing food security and enhancing environmental resources for generations.

In addition to #hugatree, students are creating a film collection of people around the world planting trees, and are reaching out to communities across the globe to participate. They have also created a YouTube video, “Seed of Flame Claymation,” and are in the process of creating a video game.

Last fall, this 10-student MMS team participated in the initial air and climate challenge. Inspired by the Loma Fire, a nearby wildfire that occurred in fall 2016, they developed an action plan that can benefit their local community by transforming a school greenhouse into a forest nursery to restore forests after wildfire, disease, and other human impacts.

“We need to understand that wildfires are a necessary part of our forest ecosystem, but climate change is making it more difficult for forests to regenerate on their own,” commented MMS science teacher Katrina Leni-Konig. “Wildfires in California are larger, burn hotter, last longer, and are more frequent than usual. The forests need our help!”

Students began a small seed bank in their science classroom, with seeds gathered from the forest property surrounding the MMS campus. Once established, the forest nursery and seed bank will serve as an ongoing educational resource for the school and broader community. At present, the students estimated that the forest seed bank contains thousands of seeds including acorn, redwood, manzanita, madrone, and coyote bush.

“I love that we will be able to help the community restore what forest was lost in the fire,” said seventh grader Alyssa Manzur.

Students are planning to plant the seeds in their forest nursery before spring time. Once established, the plants will be transplanted to areas needing restoration at Mount Madonna, as well as coordinating with Cal Fire in regards to a restoration project at the Loma Fire site. Students are planning to provide plants for habitat restoration, as well as installing equipment to measure erosion.


Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, Director of Marketing & Communications,

Nestled among the redwoods on 355 mountaintop acres, Mount Madonna is a safe and nurturing college-preparatory school that supports students in becoming caring, self-aware and articulate critical thinkers, who are prepared to meet challenges with perseverance, creativity and integrity. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville.