Ask a Homer High School student what he or she can do, invent or create to better care for the environment of the Kenai Peninsula or to improve the area's preparedness for a natural disaster, and you'll get an answer. A winning answer, as was proven in the 23rd annual Caring For the Kenai competition.
"We Homer families, the community and the school district nurture our children in so many aspects of life — athletics, arts and education. By the time these kids reach high school, they bring a knowledge base that their parents, teachers and community have contributed to and that students themselves often take for granted," said Vicki Lowe, a Homer High School biology teacher.
With more than 400 high schools students entering the competition, HHS students won three of the six finalist spots, with two more and a Susan B. English student as runners-up.
Freshman Elise Webber's disaster preparedness app was awarded first place and a $1,600 cash prize.
"What the app does is give you a check list and information on what to do in the event of a natural disaster of emergency like tsunamis, earthquakes or volcano eruptions right on your smart phone and for this generation that important and will help anyone with a smart phone," said Webber, a student in Lowe's biology class.
Lowe said Webber designed the app to have both wide-ranging as well as specific relevance.
"Elise has created an app that appeals to everyone in providing safety for safety of family, friends and neighbors in all natural disasters the peninsula has to offer," Lowe told the Homer News. "The app links lists of supplies and customizable reminders and personal maps and emergency plans for families. In addition, the app will be specific to our area."
Tayla Cabana, a student in Matthew Stineff's chemistry class at Homer High School, claimed third place and $900 for her idea of how to "Make the Spit Shine," an underwater cleanup day for the Homer Harbor this September.
"I learned that Alaska has never had a national dive day, so I went to work to start one," said Cabana.
Sixth-place and $500 went to Hannah Baird, another of Stineff's students who is working on establishing a homestead nature trail called "The Effler."
In addition to $7,500 cash prizes awarded to the finalists, $20,000 will be awarded to the science departments of schools participating in Caring for the Kenai 2013, thanks to support from events sponsors Tesoro, Chevron and CFK community partners Kenai River Sportfishing Association, Kenai River Raven Lodge, ConocoPhillips and Hilcorp. Caring for the Kenai is used as part of the state standards classroom curriculum by Homer, Kenai, Nikiski, Ninilchik, Seldovia, Seward, Skyview, SoHi and Voznesenka schools. Each school received $750 for participating; the remainder of the $20,000 will be allocated proportionately to how students from those schools placed in the competition.
Lowe anticipates Homer High School will probably use the award dollars for technology acquisition.
"The science department is hoping to integrate iPads into instruction," she said.
Twenty additional students received special recognition awards from the community sponsors.
Six students were recognized as runners-up in the competition and awarded cash prizes of $400 each. Among them were three southern peninsula students:
• Maggie Koplin of Stineff's Homer High classroom, who focused on recycling with her program called "Sort Today-Save Tomorrow;"
• Rosalia Purpora and Susan B. English teacher Justin Derks' class in Seldovia with an oral presentation for an under-the-sink composter that anyone can make for only $3;
• Elsa Simmons, also in Stineff's Homer High classroom, who is working with green building codes to save energy and improve the environment.
"These kids know science, they know language arts, they can speak the language of mathematics and they are developing passions for changing the world," said Lowe of Homer High students. "Wrap those qualities up with technological savvy and confidence and you have the perfect recipe for success in idea contests like Caring for the Kenai."
All finalists and guests will attend an awards banquet in their honor at the Kenai Visitor and Convention Center on April 27.
Judging the oral presentations were Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre; Chevron North America senior counsel Kevin Donley; Tesoro Alaska Vice President and Nikiski plant manager James Tangaro; KPBSD Superintendent Steve Atwater; Jade Gamble of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation; Richard Erkeneff of the Kenai River Sporfishing Association and Kenai River Raven Lodge; Leslie Morton, board president of the Kenai Watershed Forum; and CFK's 2012 first-place winner, Jenna Hansen.
For more information about CFK, visit www.caringforthekenai.com, Facebook and Twitter. The CFK program is administered through the Kenai Watershed Forum's educational program.
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.