Contact: Linda Topoleski, 412-281-2345
Or: West Geauga Middle School
Teacher Irene Hirata McMullen 440-796-6825


Wetlands Preservation Program by West Geauga Middle School Students
Wins Gold Medal in National Science/Community Service Competition
Held at Walt Disney World

Students Took Environmental Action After Finding 90% of Ohio's Wetlands
Have Been Destroyed Yet Less Than 1% of School Kids Know What a Wetland Is

AUBURN, NY—June 21, 2007—Bright ideas, solid research and teamwork won three students from West Geauga Middle School in Chesterland, OH, a Gold Medal and a $2,000 Savings Bond in the Christopher Columbus Awards, a nationwide program that challenges middle-school students to explore opportunities for positive change in their communities.

Sixth-graders Kelli Wright and Isabella Todaro, and seventh-grader Clay McMullen, and their coach, Irene Hirata McMullen, made it to the finals in April by developing a program to educate schools and the public about preserving Ohio's existing wetlands.

Team Photo

Gold Medal Columbus Foundation Community Grant Award Winners,
"Wetlands Education" Team — Chesterland, OH.

Left to right: Clay McMullen, Kelli Wright, Isabella Todaro and Coach Irene McMullen.

Wetlands affect quality of life and public safety, impacting issues such as flooding, erosion, recreation and biodiversity. Many birds, such as the endangered Osprey, depend on wetlands for nesting and survival.

Alarmed at statistics showing that 90% of Ohio's wetlands have been destroyed over the last two centuries, and their own survey showing that less than 1% of school students here even know what a wetland is, this team decided to take action.

They obtained a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver to begin cataloguing and monitoring wetlands near their school and reporting information back to the Ohio Environmental Council database. They also held a 'bio-blitz' at their school involving naturalists in helping them catalogue nearby plants and animals as part of their newly established outdoor classroom area. The students have also begun to take their cause on the road to other schools and residents with traveling trunks of educational materials, presentations to school boards and other officials, and fundraisers to continue the effort.

A panel of community leaders, scientists and experts in science education selected this idea as one of the top eight entries in the U.S. Over 1,200 students and coaches participated nationwide.

Team Wins a Trip to Walt Disney World®

The team and their coach won an all-expense-paid trip to the Walt Disney World® Resort, where they competed in the Christopher Columbus Awards' National Championship Week, and participated in 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 Magic Kingdom.®

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 tenth year and has attracted nearly 14,000 students from diverse backgrounds all across the U.S. The program is sponsored by the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation ( with support from the National Science Foundation and it is endorsed by the National Middle School Association. Past winners have included: a group of students from IS 164 in the Washington Heights section of New York who won a special Judges' Award for their portable, inflatable backpack seat which would enable students of all sizes to see the blackboard; a group of Native American girls who built a study hall out of straw on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana; and a group of students from Pennsylvania who developed a video/motion sensor device for school buses that deters motorists from trying to pass illegally.

Strong Participation from Girls, Minorities

The program attracts many students who may not typically enter a science competition. More than half of the entrants are girls, and more than a fourth are from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, statistics that are higher than those of most science competitions. The Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation believes the teamwork aspect and community focus draw a broader range of students to enter.

About the Sponsor

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 Progress and Discover the Future, programs that recognize "cutting edge" innovations, innovative ideas of America's youth, and honor teachers. These programs include the Homeland Security Award, Christopher Columbus Awards, National Gallery for America's Young Inventors and the $10,000 Freida J. Riley Teacher Award.

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