We kicked things off in August at the Gardens' Small Meeting Center with our Teacher Information Meeting, which serves to introduce teachers and administrators to the program, specifically for the coming year. We had a good turnout of fourteen teachers and administrators representing all of the participating schools in the Upper Keys: The Academy at Ocean Reef, Key Largo School, Ocean Studies Charter School, Plantation Key School, and Treasure Village Montessori. A number of the teachers in attendance are what we call "lead teachers" for their schools; they have an especially good understanding of the program and help teachers at their own schools with any questions they might have about incorporating the Challenge into their curricula, as well as coordinate the submission of entries to The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort for judging.
|KKBG's 2013-2014 T.I.M.|
At the meeting, we revealed this coming year's challenges as well as some notable improvements to the program, including a web interface for access to most of the pertinent information for The Fairchild Challenge in the Upper Keys. A big part of that was creating Fairchild Challenge booklets tailored specifically for the program in the Upper Keys, removing information that only applies to the program in Miami-Dade County, modifying certain challenges to fit our smaller scale, and adding photos of Upper Keys students and teachers participating in the Challenge from last year, etc. We decided to only make the booklets available electronically this year, so I dedicated a section of the Gardens' website to include the booklets, entry forms, evaluation sheets, resource guides, and challenge results available for download. Here's a screenshot from the Elementary School section of the site:
After the meeting, teachers had a few weeks to spread the word at their schools about The Fairchild Challenge and e-mail me their schools' choices of challenges they would like to participate in. We didn't really know what to expect; whether we would get less or more participation than last year. As the e-mails came in, however, we quickly realized it was going to be a big year. Last year, we had 27 teachers and over 400 students participate in 9 challenges...this year we have 53 teachers and perhaps 500-700 students participating in 15 challenges!
We've had a great start already with a number of interesting challenges, including "Parade of Incredible Insects," a challenge in which elementary school students were asked to make a mask of an insect out of natural and/or recycled materials and describe ways their chosen insect interacts with plants. Although we might often think of plants being able to do just fine on their own, the fact is that they rely heavily on insects to serve as pollinators and even protectors. The students created some amazing masks; here are a few photos of some students at work on the masks, the judging session that took place to determine the winners, and a small collage of a number of the winning masks:
|K-1st Grade students at work on a lady bug in Ms. Veronica Gutierrez's class at The Academy at Ocean Reef.|
|The Small Meeting Center at The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort all set up for judging!|
|Judges (from L to R) Nola Acker (Assistant Vice President at First State Bank), Biron Valier (Islamorada resident - he brought his own mask), and Holly Raschein (our district's State Representative)|
|A few of the winners!|
As you might guess, the results can be close with so many amazing submissions! And that applies to both students and teachers; one of the fun innovations for this year's Fairchild Challenge was the inclusion of an educator challenge, in which the teachers submit entries they have done themselves. We thought it would be fun to celebrate the 2nd Anniversary of The Fairchild Challenge here in the Upper Keys by asking educators to create a design to commemorate the occasion. The first place entry is by Mr. William de Paula, whose design includes a conch shell as the centerpiece (found both in Kona Kai's logo and the waters surrounding the Florida Keys), two notable tropical plants in our Gardens (the tropical water lily and heliconia), and seven words that concisely convey the mission of The Fairchild Challenge:
We're very thankful to be off to such a great start and are looking forward to the many challenges still to come and the awards ceremony that will top it all off. The students, teachers, parents, and judges involved in the program are having a great time, all the while enhancing their understanding and appreciation for the natural environment on the local and global level, and that's what we're all about here at The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort. If that's what you're about, too, and you'd like to become involved in supporting The Fairchild Challenge here in the Upper Keys as a donor, judge, and/or advocate, send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. The seeds we plant today shape our world tomorrow.