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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Olympus Junior High Students Earn Bank

Apr 03, 2015 11:18AM ● By Bryan Scott
Two teams of local students from Olympus Junior High earned top national finishes in the Lexus Eco Challenge. One team brought home $10,000, while the other received $25,000 for their performance. 

Each year, seventh-grade science teacher JoAnne Brown works with her gifted and talented students to enter the national contest, sponsored by Lexus. This year Mrs. Brown had seven teams compete. Two of the teams won their regional contests, earning each a $10,000 prize. 

Each of the teams chose a community project, best described as an “Eagle Scout-type” project. For example, one team spent the day cleaning up the area around Suicide Rock, while another promoted a cell phone recycling program.
 The Crushers, a team of five students, used old, recycled bikes to build a can crusher named Serk-E. The kids had identified that the school district only focused on recycling paper and not other material. This, coupled with the fact that most students in the school and district were unwilling to participate in recycling programs, inspired the team to show that recycling can be fun. 

The second team to win the regional contest, and who eventually went on to win the national prize this year, was comprised of five seventh-grade students. The team consisted of Abigail Pederson, Nathan Delis, Kate Wiseman, Carson Barnes, and Josh Bonham. This team, recognizing a global concern that they thought they could bring local awareness to, chose to focus on cell phone recycling. Last year Apple launched their new iPhone 6; during the last three months of the year, the company sold 75 million of these phones. This was exciting for consumers and shareholders, but was less-than-awesome news for the environment. So, these five students decided that they could do something about the issue and created a schoolwide recycling program for cell phones. With the support of local businesses like Chick-fil-A (Sugarhouse), Cariloha and Del Sol, the students gave incentives to students and teachers to bring in their old cell phones. The incentive worked, and over 500 phones were collected by the students. They were then able to sell the phones to a recycling company, earning nearly $500, which was donated to the Nature Conservatory. The team could have stopped there. Instead, they held another drive which brought in another 500 phones, creating an additional $400 in cash which was again donated to the Nature Conservatory.

 Mrs. Brown sees this challenge not only as a great educational experience for the students, but also as a great way to raise money for the school. Some of the funds earned from the winnings have been used to fund the outdoor classroom. This year’s national winning team was the sixth team to win the national prize under Mrs. Brown’s tutelage. Since 2007, Mrs. Brown’s students have won over $330,000 in the Lexus Eco Challenge.

However, Mrs. Brown doesn’t keep all the money; in fact, she doesn’t keep much of it at all. The majority of the money was split up and given to the students who earned the prize. When asked how they would use their winnings, most of the students said it would go toward saving for college.   

Eighth National Lexus Eco Challenge Kicks-Off! 

We know teenagers can be loud, but their small actions speak volumes. Committed young students from across the country have demonstrated that they can make an impact and make the world a better place, just by learning about the environment and taking steps to make it better for their communities and world.  Through the Lexus Eco Challenge, more than 26,000 middle and high school students have earned over $4.5 million for themselves, their teachers, and their schools. 

The challenge has opened up again and students are invited to participate for a chance to win part of $500,000 in grants and scholarships.  Lexus and Scholastic Inc., the global children’s publishing, education and media company, have joined together to create the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) educational program.

In its eighth year, the Lexus Eco Challenge is an educational program and contest for teens across the U.S. in grades 6-12 that inspires and empowers young people to learn about the environment and take action to improve it.  Teams of students can enter one or both of the first two challenges, which are focused on Land & Water and Air & Climate, respectively.  New this year, the challenges will run simultaneously, allowing the teams a wider window to complete their action plans.  Winners from each challenge are then invited to go on to participate in the Final Challenge, with a top prize of $30,000 for both the winning middle and high school teams.

The Challenge Elements 

The Lexus Eco Challenge also includes supplemental educational materials created and distributed by Scholastic that support Common Core skills and encourage teachers to integrate creative lesson plans about the environment into their classrooms.  For each challenge, the website ( has lesson plans and teacher instructions, including questions to help guide a discussion about the current challenge topic, facts about the topic, and guidelines for a specific classroom project.

Competition to reward environmental action helps young people apply what they’ve learned in class through the program and empowers them to make improvements in their community by participating in the eco-focused team challenges.          

“It’s exciting to see year after year, the creative and inspiring action plans put together by these young students for the Lexus Eco Challenge,” said Jeff Bracken, Lexus group vice president and general manager.  “These students show the incredible promise their generation has as they tackle environmental issues in their communities and around the world.”

The Challenge Rewards

Middle and high school teams, comprised of five to ten students and one to two teacher advisor(s), are invited to define an environmental issue that is important to them, develop an action plan to address the issue, implement the plan, and report on the results.

Each of the challenges will have 16 winning teams– eight middle school and eight high school teams.  The winning teams will each receive a total of $10,000 in scholarships and grants to be shared among the students, teacher and school.  In addition, the winning action plans will be featured on a special webpage to inspire other students to take action in their communities.

In January 2015, the winning teams from the first two challenges were invited to participate in the Final Challenge.  Teams will be asked to reach beyond the local community and inspire environmental action around the world through innovative ideas that are communicated to a wide audience.

From the Final Challenge entries, eight first-place teams and two grand-prize-winning teams were  selected.  Each of the eight first-place teams received a total of $15,000 in grants and scholarships, and the two grand-prize-winning teams each received $30,000. The money will be shared by the students, their teacher advisors and their schools.

Lexus’ Environmental Efforts

Lexus is the luxury hybrid leader with five low-emission hybrid vehicles available. When Lexus began selling hybrids in 2005, it helped advance the concept of sustainability without sacrifice.  The Lexus Eco Challenge is part of The Lexus Pursuit of Potential, a philanthropic initiative that generates up to $3 million in donations each year for organizations that help build, shape and improve children’s lives.