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Pottstown Area Middle School Students Win Top Prize — $25,000 Columbus Foundation Community Grant — in National Competition at Walt Disney World®

Students Plan to Develop Hand-Held Grocery Scanner to Quickly, Accurately Identify Food Allergens on Product Labels


WALT DISNEY WORLD, FL — June 23, 2004 — Bright ideas, solid research and teamwork won four students from Pottstown, PA the top prize — the $25,000 Christopher Columbus Foundation Community Grant in the Christopher Columbus Awards held here this week. This national competition challenges middle-school students to explore opportunities for positive change in their communities.

St. Aloysius sixth-graders Jodie Leyfert and Alyse Ameer, The Wyndcroft School sixth-grader Alexa Tietjen, Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary seventh-grader Ryan McDevitt, and their coach, science teacher Kristen Nagurny competed against more than 1,200 students nationwide.

"Nearly 10% of children in the United States, are allergic to peanuts and dyes and it's hard to tell whether these items are actually in some common foods we buy," the students said. "We hope to eliminate this burden for people shopping and reduce the risk that they will unknowingly ingest an allergen."

Photo of Pottstown Team

$25,000 Columbus Grant Winners — Pottstown, PA.
Left to right: Coach Kristen Nagurny, Jodie Leyfert, Alyse Ameer, Alexa Teitjen and Ryan McDevitt.


After consulting with the Food and Drug Administration and experts in barcode and database technologies, and studying the labels of hundreds of food items, this team of students developed their own handheld scanner system that shoppers can use to quickly and accurately read product labels to flag eight different allergens that go by up to 72 different names depending on the manufacturer.

The students developed custom barcodes for each item, under all of its names, and tested it on actual product labels. The scanner works pretty much flawlessly and the students hope to turn it into a real product with the $25,000 Columbus Foundation Community Grant.

The team won an expense-paid trip to Walt Disney World, along with seven other finalist teams, to experience the science behind the thrills as part of the Christopher Columbus Academy. A panel of community leaders, scientists and experts in science education judged this idea as one of the top eight entries in the U.S.

Three other teams received awards at the national competition.

Gold Medal Award — Hawken School, Lyndhurst, OH — Concerned that a 12,000-year-old population of brook trout was endangered due to toxic runoff in the watershed, these students developed a plan to educate area residents about the consequences of their daily actions and to motivate them to change. As part of their education campaign, the students asked area residents to sign pledges to reduce point source pollution in their yards and neighborhoods, they tacked warning stickers on the drains alerting residents not to use the sewers as a dumping source and they educated residents about developing riparian buffer zones in their yards to contain the impact of fertilizers and other yard chemicals.

Gold Medal Award — Hillel Academy, Fairfield, CT — Every year, more than 200,000 children are treated in emergency rooms for playground related injuries, 70% of which are caused by falls on tough surfaces. Statistics like these prompted this team to test and develop what they consider to be the safest and cleanest playground surface — recycled rubber. By dropping eggs, growing mold and conducting shoe invasion tests with different playground surfaces, the students determined that rubber would absorb the impact of falls, stay clean of mold and weeds, be most accessible to handicapped visitors, and be less likely to track into children's shoes and inside buildings.

Judges' Award — A one-time award for addressing an emerging issue of critical importance: Childhood Obesity — Enterprise Charter School, Buffalo, NY — With childhood obesity on the rise to near epidemic proportions this team decided to take action. After surveying nearly 200 of their peers and finding that more than half have a sweet tooth, they decided to develop a healthy and tasty cookie to replace the high-sugar snacks teens typically eat. To take their idea a step further, they packaged their cookie in a pyramid shaped wrapper that also encourages kids to exercise.

Health, Safety, the Environment Top Students' List of Concerns

The most pressing community issues among this year's nearly 1,200 entries were health, the environment, and safety with special emphasis on the needs of people with disabilities.

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 & Engineering and Regulatory Compliance, Walt Disney World

Dr. M. Ian Phillips — Vice President for Research & Professor, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL

Robert J. Glovitz — General Manager, EFI-ADS Communications, Inc., Scottsdale, AZ

Dr. Maria Lombardo — Educational Consultant, Rockville, MD

Rosalyn Queen Alonso — Former Chair, Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation, Flemington, WV

Eight 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 19-24. Rewards included U.S. Savings Bonds for Gold Medal Award winners. In addition, the Pottstown 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®.

For a complete list of finalists and their entries, visit

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. The program is now in its eighth 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 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 Americàs 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