Local schools win prestigious STEM competition — again

Students thinking of next steps in contest


The sixth-grade Project Extra classes at Schools No. 5 and No. 8, under the direction of teachers Kristin Stea and Sheila Gunther, respectively, have for the second year in a row been named New York State winners in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow competition. Their projects will aid environmental and marine life conservation, and safety tactics for pedestrians.

The two Oceanside schools are among 300 public schools across the nation selected from among more than 1,000 entrants in the competition. Samsung Electronics America made the announcement on Dec. 15. As state finalists, each school has won a package of $2,500 in technology and school supplies. They may now choose to advance to the next phase of the competition to vie for national finalist status. National winners will receive $100,000 in prizes for their schools.

School No. 5’s Project Extra sixth-graders, who call themselves the Students in Solutionary Active Leadership, are researching how to create fishing nets from sisal, a sustainable material from the agave plant that won’t harm aquatic life or damage coral reefs. Hundreds of millions of marine animals are killed or injured every year by fishing nets in the world’s oceans.

School No. 5 student Eric Z. — the schools requested that the young students’ privacy be protected — said he was surprised to hear the news of their win. “I didn’t expect to hear the great news, because we’re going against high school seniors,” he said. “I’m shocked that our fishing net idea is moving on to the next level.”

Stella R., who worked with Eric and other students at School No. 5, said, “It is so amazing that anyone can make a change in the world. Even if it’s something as small as a fishing net. I’m looking forward to the next part of this competition.”

The School No. 8 students plan to tackle pedestrian safety with LiDAR — light detection and ranging — technology. Long Island streets and roadways are some of the deadliest places in the country for pedestrians. The students’ idea, inspired by Spider-Man’s “spidey senses,” is to use the technology, coupled with a vibration output on wearable sensors, to alert pedestrians to danger.

They’re already thinking about their next steps. “If we move forward and develop our prototype,” student Jack B. said, “then we can look back at it, reflect on how far we’ve come and really develop a working prototype to help pedestrians.”

His classmate Leah is focusing on how valuable teamwork is in engineering. “It’s a good thing that all of us are working together on this,” she said, “because we couldn’t have come up with this by ourselves. Teamwork is what brought us here.”

“I could not be more proud of the students and their teachers, who oversaw their schools’ tremendous success in the competition,” Oceanside School District Superintendent Phyllis S. Harrington said of the students’ work. “This is a testament to our school district’s science curriculum, and in keeping with our long-term goal of fostering a research pathway for students throughout their K-12 education.”

“The annual Solve for Tomorrow competition challenges public school students in grades 6-12 to explore the role science, technology, engineering, and math (the core STEM subjects) can play in addressing some of the biggest issues in their local communities,” Samsung wrote in a news release. “The competition is designed to engage students in active, hands-on learning that can be applied to real-world problems — making STEM more tangible and showcasing its value beyond the classroom.”

STEM job growth is predicted to increase by 8 percent over the next decade, higher than the growth rate for non-STEM jobs. The Oceanside School District is focused on creating opportunities for students to engage at young ages with STEM-based materials, topics and inquiry. As a result, its students are among the youngest in the competition, with only a handful of other elementary schools selected among the 300 state winners.