Which is more incongruous: 58 teenagers volunteering to spend 12 hours working at school (on a Sunday!), or chowing down junk food while trying to solve the problem of obesity?
Both happened earlier this month. The event was Staples’ 2nd annual Spectacular Student Challenge. For $12,5000 in prize money, 12 teams of students sacrificed sleep, engaged their brains, pooled their wits and downed enormous quantities of chips, soda and other obesity-inducing delights.
Early Sunday morning — alertly remembering the start of daylight savings time — 12 teams assembled in separate classrooms. Each team received this year’s topic: America’s alarming increase in overweight children and adults has wreaked havoc on health, health costs and the economy.
The “Challenge”: design a persuasive campaign, a “pitch” and a researched report to convince the Westport community to follow a plan encouraging lifestyle change and healthy living.
The report had to answer questions like:
What factors contribute to a rise in obesity levels in the U.S., as compared to other industrialized countries?
How has obesity impacted society so far? How will it do so in the future? How is that effect quantifiable?
What realistic steps can schools, the Westport community, town and state governments, and private groups take to solve the problem?
What obstacles will your plan encounter, and how will you address them?
How will you measure your plans’ effectiveness over time?
Campaigns would be judged on creativity and well-analyzed data. The information had to be well organized, and bibliographically cited. Visual and multi-media aids were strongly encouraged.
Taking a rare break from their work (from left): sophomores Marcus Russi, Judy Feng, Robert DeLuca, Martha Whammond and Amanda Wildstein.
Stopping only for food, the students went to work. They researched numbers, and dug into history. They analyzed data, synthesized ideas and modeled solutions. They thought outside the box, tossed aside the boxes that didn’t work, and dove into snack boxes.
They created pitches, argued over the best way to present them, came to consensus, then had to actually design them — in a variety of media.
It was education at its core. And it spoke directly to Staples’ school goal: understand a local theme with much larger real-world implications, and work collaboratively using math, science, social studies and English skills to craft a solution.
Senior Cole Manley’s group, for example, came up with a plan that included making bike lanes in Westport more expansive and convenient; eliminating all trans fats in Westport restaurants; making student lunches healthier through more diverse offerings (and more fruits and vegetables), and revising the phys. ed. curriculum to get more students exercising.
This group included (from left) Jeremy Rubel, Michelle Mastriani, Petey Menz, Michael Menz and Cole Manley.
Finally — 12 hours, and many Cheez Doodles and pizzas later — the 12 teams were done.
Cole’s team sent their paper off with 5 minutes to spare. Interspersed with calculus graphs of obesity percentages were Norman Rockwell drawings of youngsters exercising.
Now, a team of teachers is reviewing all 12 papers. The top 6 teams will make a presentation to a panel of judges on April 26.
Members of the winning team get $6,000, to be used as scholarship funds for college. The next 2 teams will share another $6,500. Prize money was donated by the Gudis Family Foundation, and the Melissa & Doug educational toy company.
Then the winners will go out to celebrate. With a dinner at Whole Foods.