BURBANK — Step by step, fifth-graders at Shull Elementary School recorded the planting of trees and combating of pollution.
Their scrapbook-like portfolio about green efforts in San Dimas was on display Tuesday afternoon as an example of environmental projects classrooms undertake in the Disney Planet Challenge, a national competition that promotes teamwork and real-world problem-solving skills.
“It’s hands-on, it’s community involvement, what a difference it makes,” said Jack O’Connell, state superintendent of public instruction. “The concepts and skills these students acquire will benefit the environment indefinitely. That’s why I’m such an enthusiastic supporter of this program.”
Participation is free, and more than 1,500 teachers have registered for the challenge. Disney worked with educators from the National Science Teachers Assn. and educational nonprofits to provide lesson plans that complement learning-by-doing methodology, providing students with valuable experiences and memories, teachers said.
“Even my struggling students get energized when they feel like what they’re doing makes a difference,” said Robin Jankiewicz, a fourth-grade teacher at Emerson Elementary School. “Sometimes that to them is the highlight of the year, and I see a side to them I’ve never seen before. For some students, this is the best way to get them learning.”
The competition is open to students grades fourth through sixth nationwide. About 70 teachers and administrators from Los Angeles, Glendale, Burbank and Pasadena school districts attended the presentation.
“Our children and our schools are a big priority for us, and we want to make sure that the community in our own backyard knows all about the program so they can take full advantage of it,” said Beth Stevens, Disney’s senior vice president of environmental affairs. “Kids have learned so much; it’s not just that they learned about the environment, but they’ve learned how to work together, plan a project and bring it to completion, and that’s all very, very empowering.”
Disney’s chief financial officer, Thomas Staggs, described the competition as positive for the planet, for the future and the students.
“It’s a key part of fulfilling our responsibility as a company,” he said.
Teacher Elaine Hacker snapped pictures of previous projects with her camera phone. She said she might show her fourth-graders, who are in the midst of life science lessons at Verdugo Woodlands Elementary School in Glendale.
“I have always been a fan of what Disney’s done with nature in their movies as a child growing up,” she said. “The level of student engagement is incredible and it goes across the curriculum. ... They have all of these things they have to be able to learn to come up with this type of project. It’s wonderful.”
Ann Marie Goulding, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at Stevenson Elementary School in Burbank said the project will push students to be creative and productive citizens.
“It brings in reading, math, writing, science — all the standards are brought into the project,” she said. “And technology and visual arts are brought [into] the presentations.”
The grand prize is a three-day, two-night trip to the Disneyland resort for the winning class. There are also regional and state awards, and every participant will receive a certificate of recognition.
Registration closes Dec. 18 and teachers can sign up by visiting disney.com/planetchallenge. Winners will be selected and announced in March.
“If you can actually put something into practice and be involved in a situation where you work together as a team and solve problems, that’s what real life is about,” said Joel Shapiro, deputy superintendent of Burbank Unified School District. “We like to take learning opportunities outside the classroom and give kids a chance to work on real-life projects as a way of putting their learning into practice.”