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Contact: Meg Colafella, 412-281-2345,

National Competition Winners Work to Save Endangered Species, Revolutionize Science Education and Prevent Crib-Related Deaths

Kansas City, Houston, Orlando Students Win Top Honors at Bayer/NSF Award

ORLANDO, June 25, 2000 — A year ago, 12 young teens were everyday middle school students. Now, they're groundbreaking environmental activists, educators and inventors.

Last night they were named winners in the Bayer/NSF Award, a leading-edge, nationwide educational program that challenges sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders to use science and technology to identify and develop a solution to a community issue.

Bayer Corporation, the National Science Foundation, the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation and Discover Magazine developed the program to address the critical need for inquiry-based, team-oriented, community-focused experiences in science education at the middle school level.

Prizes include $36,000 in US Savings Bonds and the $25,000 Columbus Foundation Community Grant, seed money to help one team bring its idea to life:

First Place ($20,000 in US Savings Bonds)-Batty 4 Bats-St. Therese School, Kansas City, MO. Team Members: Natalie Blackburn, Lisa Fahey, Emily Kahm, Courtney Torres (grade 8). Coach: Suzanne Greenwood.

Concerned that an ongoing decline in the local bat population could affect the food chain, these innovative students have developed an imaginative program to increase public awareness of the true nature and importance of bats, as well as the hazards that threaten to cause the extinction of several species.

The girls conducted extensive research on local bat species, conducted "Batty 4 Bats" Nights attracting hundreds of local residents to learn more about bats, and developed a creative series of lesson plans for local libraries they call the "Bats on the Wing" Traveling Trunk.

"Humans are the greatest threat to the bat population," says Blackburn. "We want to change their 'battitudes.'"

$25,000 Columbus Foundation Community Grant and Second Place ($12,000 in US Savings Bonds)-Science Squad-Hamilton Middle School, Houston, TX. Team Members: Allison Carr, Jonathan Lew, Haley O'Neil, Skyler Schawe (grade 8). Coach: Jamie Scott.

"Kids teaching kids" is an innovative approach to science education proposed by Science Squad. It is designed to address low scores on standardized tests taken by local fifth graders and help them prepare for the challenges of middle school science. The program they created may be part of the solution to nationwide concerns about the quality of elementary- level science education as well.

The lesson plans designed by the students target specific educational needs identified in their research with local fifth graders. The curriculum draws the students into science with an original and creative series of hands-on science experiences led by the eighth graders they emulate.

"We will use the $25,000 Columbus Grant to recruit and train new Science Squad members in hopes of expanding the program not just in Houston but throughout the nation," explains Allison Carr. "We want to spark scientific interest in fifth grade students across the country," adds Haley O'Neil. The team's community partner is HU-LINK, Houston Urban Learning Initiatives in a Networked Community.

Third Place ($4,000 in US Savings Bonds)-Kiddie Katcher-Millennium Middle School, Sanford (Orlando), FL. Team Members: Allison Giardino, Nick Marrinson, Amanda Ohbayashi, Heather Walker (grade 7). Coach: Vera DeLoach.

Faced with statistics that 9,000 crib-related injuries and 54 deaths occur each year, the team invented "Kiddie Katcher" and built a prototype consisting of a hinged frame and netting attached to a crib. The device has an alarm to alert parents should an infant fall into the netting, as well as a system of counterweights to keep the crib from tipping. "While working as a baby sitter, one of our team members imagined how terrible a fall from a crib could be for an infant," explains Amanda Ohbayashi. "We came up with a simple device that would prevent a fall if a child escaped from its crib."

The Sanford team placed second in last year's Bayer/NSF Award for inventing "Pak Rax," an under-seat storage device designed to enhance school bus safety. The device is being tested by the Florida Department of Transportation.

Nearly 2000 students entered the Bayer/NSF Award in the 1999-2000 school year. Of those, 10 teams of four students were selected as regional finalists and won trips to compete in the National Championship at Epcot® at the Walt Disney World® Resort as part of the Discover Magazine Awards for Technological Innovation.

While at Epcot® the students also participated in the Christopher Columbus Academy, a unique educational experience in which the students learn about science and technology by working side-by-side with engineers, technicians and other innovators.

The final competition included written and oral presentations, demonstrations and interviews with a distinguished panel of six judges, including Art Fry, 3-M scientist and inventor of the Post-It Note; Steven Culbertson, President and CEO, Youth Service America; Greg Hale, Vice President, Design & Engingeering and Regulatory Compliance for Walt Disney World; James Youniss, Ph.D., Director of the Life Cycle Institute, Catholic University of America; William Warren, a scientist with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA); and Renee Anderson, Director of Saturday Academy Outreach Initiative.

An Opportunity Open to All Middle School Students

The Bayer/NSF Award is designed to appeal to all students and give them a meaningful, exciting experience with science, technology and community. The students use their curiosity, creativity and critical thinking skills, applying talents ranging from art and writing to science and math.

"Most competitions are geared to the top 5%," says Sue Swaim, executive director of National Middle School Association, which endorses the Bayer/NSF Award. "The Bayer/NSF Award is a wonderful experience for students at all levels."

All students in grades 6-8 are encouraged to enter this competition, which charges no entry fee. Teams do not have to be school-based. Entries for next year are due January 31, 2002. Students, teachers, parents and community leaders can call 1-800-291-6020 or visit to receive an application and other information.