Christopher Columbus Awards: News

Embargoed until 5 P.M. EDT
News — October 6, 1998

SP PR 98-04
Media contact:  Bill Line  (703) 306-1070
Program contact:  Susan Chase  (703) 306-1070


Long Island Team Presents Winning National Science and Technology Award to Congress

Backpack Safety Highlights Students' Project

Four students and their teacher from Cold Spring Harbor Junior High in Cold Spring Harbor, NY, and second place winners of a national science achievement competition that encourages critical thinking, creativity, scientific accuracy and problem-solving, present their project to members of Congress and members of the Washington-based science and technology community.

The Cold Spring Harbor students competed against over 300 other student teams in the national Bayer/NSF Award. Three winning teams were chosen from semifinalists in each of 10 regions. The Long Island team won $12,000 in savings bonds and an all-expense paid trip for finals week to Walt Disney World® and attendance at the Christopher Columbus Academy.

The second-place entry came from a concern about preventing back injuries. The all-girl team performed research and determined the heavy backpacks their classmates carry all day put them at risk for spinal damage and related injuries. Calling their campaign, "Light is Right," the team used the scientific method to alert students to the risks of too-heavy loads and provided tips on how to avoid the problem.

"Most students are unaware of the long-term damage that can be caused by wearing backpacks that are too heavy," says Rachel Friedstein, 13, one of the team members from Cold Spring Harbor.

Friedstein, along with Jessica Berenblum, 13, Laura Schulz, 13 and Raina Tripp, 14 and their teacher Jim Frank identified risk factors and prevention techniques, including maximum weight limits, proper usage and other practices that could prevent future back problems for fellow students.

"Kids often see problems and solutions that adults do not," said Julia Moore of the National Science Foundation, a Bayer/NSF Award sponsor. "The Bayer/NSF Award recognizes that these students' work has impact in their local community, and that by working together, they have the power to turn things around."

The other winning teams are from Hyde Park Middle School, Las Vegas, NV (1st place) and from Walden Middle School, Atlanta, GA (3rd place). The Las Vegas students invented a device the call "The Back Belt," a safety harness that is clamped onto swings to prevent backward falls. The Walden Middle School students also were awarded the $25,000 Columbus Foundation Community Grant, designed to be seed money to help the team bring to reality its idea of providing homeless and transient classmates with a clearinghouse to make easy access to the students' medical and school records, vital information that is often misplaced or lost.

"The Bayer/NSF Award turns kids onto science and show them the important connection between science and technology and society," explained Sande Deitch, director of the Bayer Corporation's Making Science Make Sense program, a corporate initiative supporting hands-on, inquiry-based science education and promoting science literacy.

"This competition is based upon the idea that all children have the potential to succeed and to become community leaders," added Rosalyn Queen, chairperson of the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation.

The program specifically targets a critical age range in science education. Studies indicate that middle school is the point at which U.S. students begin to fall behind their peers around the world in science and mathematics achievement.

A broad range of students was involved in this year's competition, with 60% of this year's entrants girls and 30% minorities.

The 1998 Discover Magazine award winners will also be present at the Capitol Hill event. Sponsored by the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation, the Discover Awards single out and honor the men and women most responsible for recent technological breakthroughs.

The Bayer Corporation, the National Science Foundation, the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation and Discover Magazine are sponsors of the annual Bayer/NSF Award.