UPPER KEYS -- Plantation Key School last week won the award for the top performing institution in the Monroe County Fairchild Challenge, which local schools participated in for the first time this year.
Some 300 elementary and middle school students and teachers took to the stage at the Murray E. Nelson Government and Cultural Center last Wednesday evening to receive environmental achievement awards from the local Fairchild Challenger partner, The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort. Highest scoring schools also received cash awards.
For the top prize, Plantation Key School students earned the opportunity to participate in an environmental restoration project with world-renowned artist Xavier Cortada.
The Farichild Challenge is a standards-based environmental education program that was begun 11 years ago by Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Miami. As part of the challenge, students and schools competed in projects dealing with imperiled plants and animals, school gardens, habitat restoration, historic Florida and more.
PKS teacher Tisa Lall, who led the school's Fairchild Challenge program, said her students were enthusiastic about the various Fairchild challenges.
"Kids went home and planted gardens themselves," Lall said. "They took what we did in school and expanded it."
PKS fourth-grader Chris Hernandez said he drew large lessons from the Fairchild Challenge.
"I learned it is really important because if we grow plants we can make the world a better place," he said.
The 2012 Monroe County Fairchild Challenge Awards were funded through supporters of The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort. This inaugural year involved 27 teachers and an estimated student count of more than 400 representing five schools and one home school family. First- through eighth-graders participated.
"These young people are our future. What we at The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort have realized through this program is that respecting and caring for our environment is quickly becoming second nature for all the young people here today," lodge owner Veronica Harris said at last week's awards ceremony.