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Sixth-graders win eco competition, $15,000
Flashing a smile of crooked teeth, Alex Toro said he plans to buy himself braces.
Edward Lai wants to save for college and maybe buy some games, and David says his mom works so hard, he is going to share some with her.
When the sixth-grade students at Arboga Elementary School were announced this week as first-place winners in a national environmental contest, many knew immediately what they would do with their prize money. As winners of the competitive Lexus Eco Challenge, the Team Aqua students will share a $15,000 prize with their teacher and school.
"I want to scream but that would be very inappropriate," said Camilla Azevedo, 11.
"I was high-fiving so many of my friends, my hands are still red," added Alex Toro, 11.
The national contest encourages high school and middle school students to develop and implement environmental programs that positively impact communities on global and local levels. Arboga's Team Aqua and the Threatening Stingerz were the only two groups in 13 states to win the first round of the initial challenge, and took home $10,000 each.
They knew winning the final round would be tough, as they competed with 400 teams nationwide.
Team Aqua was focused on water conservation and providing safe drinking water. They toured water plants, tested water and raised $1,000 to purchase two safe drinking water systems for children in Guatemala.
The project really opened students eyes about water in the world, they said.
"Some kids don't have clean water to wash their hands without fear of getting sick or not going to school," said David Fields, 11.
"It's a privilege for us to have clean water," said Rayven Butler, 12.
The contest may be over, but the students don't plan to end their campaign. They want to share the message about water conservation and safe access with other adults and children.
"In the beginning, it was a competition, but in the end they got more excited about using the money to help other kids, — 'How many schools is that gonna help? How many kids are at that school?'" said Jessica McCollum, a paraeducator who helped oversee the project.
Teacher Tami Straolzini said in the last few months, her students have improved in group and independent research skills, and learned how to be teachers as they shared their project with other schools and the community.
"They grew not only academically and knowledge-wise, but emotionally," she said. "Kids on the introverted side, not willing to take risks or put themselves out there really blossomed through this experience."
Straolzini gets $2,000, which she plans to spend on replacing classroom supplies, and the school gets $3,000, which will be in part for environmental education. The eight students of Team Aqua will split the remaining $10,000.
Brian McCollum, 11, said winning gave him a feeling of happiness he can only compare to when his dad came home for Christmas after a six-month deployment in the military. He always thought the group had a chance at success.
"We tried to do the best we could," he said.
Now, he's thinking of putting his money in savings. Camilla wants to go shopping and Mercedes Rodriguez, 12, is designating some for college and the rest for her family. Rayven grinned as she pulled out a list of ideas for her winnings, but one tops them all.
"I'm going to Disneyland with my mom because she's never been and I've never been and we always dreamed of going," she said.
CONTACT Ashley Gebb at email@example.com or 749-4783. Find her on Facebook at /ADagebb or on Twitter at @ADagebb.