Contact: Linda Topoleski, 412-281-2345 or

Kyra Harmanos, 412-281-2345 or

Students Are Recognized by PA Governor Edward G. Rendell and State Legislature for Video Technology to Deter Motorists from Illegally Passing School Buses

 Students Won Top Prize—$25,000 Columbus Foundation Community Grant—at National Christopher Columbus Awards for Adapting Tollbooth Video Technology for School Bus Safety

Harrisburg, PA—September 30, 2003—A group of seventh-grade students from Penndale Middle School in Lansdale, PA, met with Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell yesterday and received formal recognition from the PA State Legislature for their plan to mount video cameras on the outside of school buses to deter motorists from trying to illegally pass them.

The students were awarded the top prize—the $25,000 Columbus Foundation Community Grant—at the Christopher Columbus Awards held in Walt Disney World® in June, and attracted the attention of the State's lawmakers because current laws will have to be changed to allow for any device to be mounted on school buses.

"With a quality public education beginning in early childhood our young people can achieve great things, and contribute to society with their ideas," said Governor Rendell. "The ingenuity of these fine students, and tenacity in getting community and government leaders to recognize their ideas should be an example for students across the Commonwealth."

Left to right: Tyler Schultz; PA Governor Edward G. Rendell; Nicholas Burkwit; Tracey Hickey; Joan Hurd, team coach; Dr. Gemma Geigert, Principal A.M. Kulp Elementary School.

While in sixth grade, Nicholas Burkwit, Tracey Hickey and Tyler Schultz, and their teacher Joan Hurd, developed an idea to mount motion sensors and cameras, similar to those used at highway tollbooths, on school buses to photograph the license plates of illegally passing cars.

"We're concerned about the safety of school kids and hope to prevent an accident by making motorists think twice before they decide to illegally pass a school bus," the students said.

The Christopher Columbus Awards challenge middle-school students to explore opportunities for positive change in their communities. The team answered the challenge and met with alarm companies and school bus companies to devise their entry for the Christopher Columbus Awards. They also met with Governor Rendell and PA State Rep. Robert Godshall-R, Hatfield, earlier this year, to gather support for modifying school buses. As a result of those meetings, Rep. Godshall introduced House Bill 1315 in June that would allow the devices on school buses. Today, the state legislature officially recognized the team for their work.

Left to right: PA Speaker of the House, John Perzel; Joan Hurd, team coach; Tracey Hickey; PA State Representative Robert Godshall; Nicholas Burkwit; Tyler Schultz; Judith Shellenberger, Executive Director, Christopher Columbus Foundation.

The team won an expense-paid trip to Walt Disney World, along with nine other finalist teams, to experience the science behind the thrills at the theme park as part of the Christopher Columbus Academy—an educational experience that puts the students side by side with scientists, engineers and business people to learn about the discovery and invention process firsthand. They competed against nearly 2,000 other students across the country who entered the awards competition.

Positive Community Change

The Christopher Columbus Awards, now in its eighth year, has attracted more than 12,000 students from diverse backgrounds all across the U.S. The program is sponsored by the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation with cooperation from the National Science Foundation and it is endorsed by the National Middle School Association.

Child Safety, the Environment Top Students' List of Concerns

The most pressing community issues among this year's entries were child safety and the environment. Interestingly, many of the child safety entries were developed to help distracted or absent parents including: a bathtub scald stopper for babies and toddlers, a matchbox lock, and an electronic front door screener that would mimic adult voices or barking dogs and insist on information from the visitor before allowing the door to open.

Strong Participation From Girls, Children of Diverse Backgrounds

Nearly 2,000 students entered the competition and more than half of them are girls, an unusually high number for a science competition, and a statistic that competition officials believe is linked to the teamwork aspect, which plays to a strength of middle-school-age girls. More than a fourth are from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, statistics that are higher than those of most science competitions.

About the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation

The Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation is an independent Federal government agency created by Congress in 1992 to encourage and support research, study and labor designed to produce new discoveries in all fields of endeavor for the benefit of mankind. The Foundation has established Frontiers of Discovery—Work in Process and Discover the Future programs that recognize "cutting edge" innovation, innovative ideas of America's youth and honor teachers. These programs include the Frank Annunzio Award, Homeland Security Awards, Christopher Columbus Awards, National Gallery for America's Young Inventors and the Freida J. Riley Teacher Award. Please visit the Foundation's website at for more information on the programs it supports.

For more information on the Christopher Columbus Awards, call 1-800-291-6020 or visit