BY CAROL ROEHM
Two groups of North Ridge Middle School students both earned fourth place at an international competition last week for their projects that tackled two issues affecting the community.
One group of Future Problem Solvers in sixth through eighth grade tackled an environmental project inspired by last summer’s drought, while another Future Problem Solvers group of fourth- through sixth-graders combated the county’s health issues by creating fitness stations for one of Danville’s city parks.
Earlier in the year, both North Ridge groups, totaling 24 students, beat out other Future Problem Solvers groups statewide to earn the privilege of representing Illinois in their age divisions at the Future Problem Solvers International competition, which was held last week at Indiana University in Bloomington.
The competition typically draws about 9,000 young future problem solvers in three age divisions — elementary, junior and senior — from around the globe.
Both North Ridge groups competed in the community problem solving category, which had a total of 79 projects entered. Students were judged on their projects, with judges interviewing the students and asking them questions about their projects.
North Ridge math teacher Lori Woods, who is the groups’ adviser, said one of the highlights of the five-day event was when the Danville students were paired with a team from Turkey.
“The best thing about this year’s competition was being Turkey’s buddy team,” Woods said. “The purpose of the competition was to interact with others from around the United States and around the world.
“It was Turkey’s first year to compete, and they had never seen yellow school buses before.”
Another highlight was when the Danville students — including former Future Problem Solver Christian Cunningham who accompanied the North Ridge students to the competition as a volunteer — participated in a variety show.
North Ridge eighth-grader and three-year Future Problem Solver member Kendall Campbell taught her teammates and the Turkish students the lyrics to “What a Wonderful World” in sign language, which they signed while Cunningham sang the song during the variety show.
“That was a lot of fun,” Kendall said, adding that she knows sign language from a group at her church.
“It was a cool experience because how else would you get to meet kids from Turkey?” she said.
“We learned all kinds of Turkish words and, by the end of the week, we were really close.”
Kendall said she continues to keep in contact with one of the Turkish students through Facebook, Tweeting and texting.
Helping the environment
It was also Kendall who came up with the idea for her team to tackle an environmental project this year. Kendall co-chaired the environmental project with fellow eighth-grader Natalie Hummer.
But when the drought and North Ridge’s school renovations prevented the students from pursuing their original project of planting in the green spaces in the school’s courtyards, their focus shifted to a sustainability project.
The students visited recycling centers and other businesses in the area to seek donations of castoffs that they could repurpose and upscale with a little elbow grease and paint into items that served a new purpose.
After looking at what they had collected, the students thought about how they could create a culture of sustainability.
Using old wooden cable spools from Advantage Recycling, old patio tables from Turtle Run Golf Course and Banquet Center and tiles from Bargain Barn, the students worked over the winter in a space donated by Danville Gardens to create a ping-pong table, two game tables, three smaller tables, five rockers and several small chairs. The students also repainted some shepherd’s hooks for hanging plants.
Kendall said the projects that won first through third place in her team’s age division “were really big and very interesting projects.”
The second Future Problem Solver group also presented its project, “Health Crunchers: Crunching and Munching Our Way to a Healthier and Fitter Future,” at the international competition.
Sixth-grader Makayla Smith co-chaired the Health Crunchers group with fellow sixth-grader Nathaniel Pollert.
The group of North Ridge and East Park students researched and wrote a report about how Vermilion County ranks 96th out of 102 Illinois counties for being healthy.
After finding out that the area is in the top 10 percent of the unhealthiest counties in the state, the students began to work on figuring out what could be done to help this.
The students found out that poverty was a factor in being one of the unhealthiest counties, so they decided to create eight fitness stations at Espenscheid Park near Kimball and Voorhees streets.
The students also designed signs for the park that explain how many calories an individual will burn by walking a certain distance and then doing an exercise.