Blue Ridge students attempt to reduce food waste

Emily Martin/Dalton Public Schools

Kavon Hill, a member of the Sub-Zero squad, consults notes from a PowerPoint as he discusses his team's project Monday at Blue Ridge School. 

DALTON, Ga. — The I-Box, designed to attract customers to imperfect foods, and Sub-Zero, which preserves melting ice cream, won top marks from judges Monday at Blue Ridge School during the finals of the school's Bright Spark design competition.

Since returning from winter break on Jan. 6, students in grades four and five have used their media center time — some groups even surrendered time before school and/or during lunch to enhance their projects — to design eco-friendly packages with the potential to reduce food waste, said Courtney Taylor, media center specialist at Blue Ridge. Given multiple options by Bright Spark, Blue Ridge opted for the food-salvaging packages challenge because food waste has already been a focus in the school's STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum.

The design challenge is different than being in a classroom, said Christine Long, Blue Ridge's principal.

"It's an opportunity for them to collaborate, work with peers, design something innovative and (during pitches to judges) work on their public speaking skills," Long said.

This challenge has been "an outlet for them to show their creativity in unique ways, and they've enjoyed it," Taylor said. "They've loved it, and they've worked hard."

Taylor has been impressed by their ideas" as well as how quickly students compiled their projects, she said. "We went from zero to 100 seemingly overnight," she said.

The I-Box foursome of fifth-graders Andrew Apodaca, Alex Avalos, Braxton Overby and David Sandoval confronted the problem of consumers "wasting food because it's ugly," such as an odd-looking carrot or apple, said Apodaca. In addition to boxing those items, their I-Box contains various recipes that incorporate those underappreciated foods so "people understand they don't need to be so picky about their food."

"Farmers spend time and money on stuff people won't buy," said Overby. However, "once people buy it and taste it, they'll love it."

The I-Box team "had a niche not many people explore, and they're also trying to teach a lesson," said Nick Sun, a director of school support for Dalton Public Schools. "They're giving value to food that is typically wasted."

For Avalos, drawing and sketching was his favorite aspect of this project, he said. He plans to add more details as they work toward the state competition.

Among the obstacles they overcame was their box being "too hard to close," said Overby, and the had to make it bigger."

In addition, they had to unite behind a single focus, which was problematic because each member of the team was teeming with ideas, Overby said. "The word was 'compromise.'"

Indeed, "you're going to work with people with different perspectives in life, because everyone has their own perspective on things," Long said. "Everyone brings value, perspective and ideas."

The prototype for the Sub-Zero squad of fifth-graders Henry Calderon, Kavon Hill, Dylan Renteria, Leonel Renteria, Jason Rivas and Edwin Vasquez contains a smaller cup in the bottom of a larger one to catch melting ice cream, said Hill. Ice cream eaters can drink the melted ice cream like a milkshake or easily toss it back into the freezer for later consumption.

The design also incorporates a band to hold a spoon, said Dylan Renteria. Furthermore, they made it white, rather than black, to keep the container's creamy contents cool on the sunniest of days.

"Bright Spark is Bridge Innovate's social innovation designed to ignite creative confidence with students and educators using design thinking," according to the Bridge Innovate website. "Bright Spark offers programs for students fourth-grade through college to build design skills such as empathy, problem solving, prototyping and experimenting to innovate new solutions with design thinking."

Both Sub-Zero and I-Box "answered the challenge," Sun said. "They're saving food and eliminating waste."

Both teams will need to polish their presentations for the state competition, however, Sun told them. "Focus on what makes your idea unique, be loud, and be proud."

Seven groups pitched to a handful of judges Monday, and "I liked how all of (them) learned from their mistakes," Sun said. "This is just a start, (and) I'm so proud of Blue Ridge."

"We've got such bright students, and there's value in each of these presentations," Long seconded. "I'm very proud of how (these students) represented Blue Ridge."

Several Dalton Public Schools elementary buildings, including Brookwood, City Park and Westwood, are conducting Bright Spark pitch competitions, Sun said. A dozen teams from Dalton Public Schools will compete next month in the state Bright Spark competition in three categories.

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