Extracurricular Activities Students

High School Students Worm Their Way to Sustainability

The students pose for a picture holding a few of the mealworms in their hands.

A group of nine high school students have made it to the Finals portion of the LEXUS EcoChallenge! This competition is a national STEM competition for grades 6-12. Student teams are encouraged to tackle environmental issues that affect their communities and create practical solutions while competing for a total of $500,000 in grants and scholarships. This is the first year students from our high school have entered the challenge.

The students’ project centers around feeding styrofoam waste to mealworms, critters that can safely digest the refuse. The two teacher sponsors are Monica Bowman and Katie Kane, and the students include: juniors Antonio Amore Rojas, Alice Breternitz, Faith Deddens, Carolyn Duncan, Eleanor Duncan and Megan Ross; and sophomores Abigail Bernstein, Cindy Wang and Christopher Ye.

In Monica Bowman’s science classroom, nestled behind bundles of yarn, are twelve 8-oz. cylinders, each filled with mealworms and superworms happily munching away at bits of styrofoam.”The yarn keeps them warm,” junior Alice Breternitz said, smiling.

“The interesting part of this project, for me, is the creative problem-solving as a group,” Alice said. “We found a problem—styrofoam that’s just thrown away after it’s used—and then we needed an out-of-the-box solution, something that would be sustainable. We learned that mealworms eat styrofoam, and that led to more research about how to make this work for our school.”

The students collected styrofoam from around the high school and began experimenting. They soon found that a group of superworms can eat 1 to 1.5 containers filled about 3/4 of the way with styrofoam each week.

“The part that impresses me most is that the students found this interesting idea, and it motivated them to try it out for themselves,” Katie said. “These students threw themselves into this project using their enthusiasm and critical thinking skills to figure out how they could make this a sustainable process for our school.”

Sustainability is key to this project, so the students are not only working on breaking down the styrofoam. They are also experimenting with using the feces of the worms as compost. And when the mealworms eventually turn into beetles, they will be used as food for the reptiles living in science classrooms.

“We would like to start collecting styrofoam from the middle school and the elementary schools, too, so that we can
make an impact at the district level,” Alice said.

For the Finals, the students’ project submission is due on March 5, 2018. To learn more about the Lexus Eco Challenge, please visit http://lexus.scholastic.com.