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Fontainebleau Junior High School Students Place Second Out of 400+ Teams Nationwide In National Competition
Students Aim to Make Getting Around a Little Easier for People with Disabilities
by Adding Foldout Seats and Headlights to Walkers
Walt Disney World, Florida—June 26, 2003—Bright ideas, solid research and teamwork won three students from Fontainebleau Junior High School in Mandeville, LA, second place out of 400+ teams who entered the Christopher Columbus Awards. This national competition challenges middle-school students to explore opportunities for positive change in their communities. Nearly 2,000 students participated nationwide.
Looking to make day-to-day life and getting around a little easier and more comfortable for people with disabilities, the students have retrofitted the standard walker with a foldout cushioned seat and headlights. Eighth-graders Sean Simone, Greg Heun and Kyle Leunissen, and their science teacher Diane Rabalais, said their hearts went out to a family member stricken with Parkinson's Disease who had difficulty keeping up with them on a trip to the mall last Thanksgiving. That prompted them to research ideas for improving walkers. They talked with medical supply companies, and fishing/hiking supply companies, and conducted research of various medical resources online to develop their idea. Then they tested their invention with children and adults and received an 85% approval rating, they said.
"We noticed that people with walkers weren't always able to find a place to sit and rest, and that they were experiencing difficulty seeing the floor in dark spaces such as movie theaters," the team said. "With this invention, people with disabilities will have an easier time getting around."
The team won an expense-paid trip to Walt Disney World, along with nine other finalist teams, to experience the science behind the thrills as part of the Christopher Columbus Academy. In addition, each of these team members will receive a $3,000 U.S. Savings Bond.
In addition, three other teams received awards.
$25,000 Columbus Foundation Community Grant—A.M. Kulp Elementary School, Hatfield, PA-near Philadelphia—Hoping to make drivers think twice before passing an unloading school bus, this team plans to mount motion sensors and video cameras on the buses. They received the competition's top prize—the $25,000 Columbus Foundation Community Grant—to bring their idea to life.
First Place—Bexley Middle School, Bexley, OH—Concerned about the environmental impact and odor of burning animal carcasses in Ohio, this team developed an idea to turn roadkill into compost, creating an odorfree, environmentally friendly fertilizer.
Third Place—Carlinville Middle School, Carlinville, IL—As the summer mosquito season hits, these students have an idea to prevent the spread of West Nile Virus—developing colonies of Purple Martins—birds that eat thousands of mosquitoes a day, and provide enjoyment with their bright color and song at the same time.
Child Safety, the Environment Top Students' List of Concerns
The most pressing community issues among this year's nearly 2,000 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.
Competition Attracts Teams of 'Everyday' Kids—Including an Unusually High Percentage of Girls and Minorities
More than half of the entrants to the Christopher Columbus Awards 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.
"In a competition like this, middle school students gain critical life skills and discover, to their absolute amazement, that they truly can make a difference in the world," said Robert J. Glovitz, chairman of the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation. "They've seen that if they have a workable idea, and present it clearly, that very often people will listen and encourage them."
National Panel of Judges
Judges have included nationally prominent scientists, journalists, teachers and community leaders who have worked with children. This year's panel included: Greg Hale—Vice President, Design and Engineering and Regulatory Compliance, Walt Disney World, Orlando, FL; Robert J. Glovitz—Chief Executive Officer, ADS Communications, Inc., Scottsdale, AZ; Dr. Maria Lombardo—Educational Consultant, Rockville, MD; M. Joyce Van Schaack—Executive Vice President, Van Schaack Designs, Laguna Niguel, CA; Rosalyn Queen Alonso—Former Chair, Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation, Clarksburg, WV
Ten finalist teams won an all-expense-paid trip to the Walt Disney World® Resort, where they competed in the Christopher Columbus Awards' National Championship Week, June 20-26. Rewards included $36,000 in U.S. Savings Bonds for the top three national winners. In addition, the Hatfield team will bring home the $25,000 Columbus Foundation Community Grant to help bring its idea to life in the community. The finalists also attended the Christopher Columbus Academy, a custom-designed educational program. Conducted by scientists, engineers and educators, the program reveals the science and technology behind the thrills and excitement of Epcot® and the Animal Kingdom®.
For a complete list of finalists and their entries, visit www.christophercolumbusawards.com.
Positive Community Change
The Christopher Columbus Awards challenge teams of middle-school students to explore and discover opportunities for positive change in their communities using science and technology. Formerly known as the Bayer/NSF Award, the program is now in its seventh year and 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.
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 www.columbusfdn.org for more information on the programs it supports.
For more information on the Christopher Columbus Awards, call 1-800-291-6020 or visit www.christophercolumbusawards.com.