STEM groups at WHMS recognized

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An awards ceremony and celebration were held last week at Western Hills Middle School to celebrate the Verizon App Challenge and the Lexus Eco Challenge winners, two groups of middle school students who won nationwide recognition for their project submissions.

David Steets, Bella George, Olivia Martin, Christina Charie, Noah Ialongo, David Moretti and Sam Latzman were recognized for their Verizon App Challenge team's FoodFinder App submission having won the Best in State title. "The Greenhouse Effect" team for the Lexus Eco Challenge, which consists of Eric Garcia, Julia Deal, Jordan Simpson, Leah Phann, Elizabeth Cowart and Ava Kavanagh, were recognized for being one of just four middle schools nationwide to win the Lexus Eco Challenge's Air and Climate Challenge with their drip irrigation greenhouse project. Both teams earned cash for their school and for their faculty advisors, Michael Blackburn and John Worthington. The Lexus Eco Challenge team won cash prizes for themselves as well, while the Verizon team won tablets for themselves.

At the awards ceremony, Rep. Robert Lancia, Mayor Allan Fung, Cranston's Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse, Principal Tim Vesey and Verizon's Michele Cinquegrano were all present to congratulate and recognize the two groups of students with special citations.

Rep. Lancia brought greetings from the State House and congratulated the students on a job well done. He brought with him citations from the office of the Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello for both of the winning teams.

Blackburn thanked all the honored guests for being at the event, and for their continued support of the students and of the entire STEM team. He also thanked the parents of the students on the two teams for their support.

"You have tirelessly backed us from behind the scenes, and this would not be possible without everyone's support," Blackburn said. "This is a huge achievement for us, as a school, a city and as individuals. You have all worked super hard, you had great ideas, great essays, great presentations, prototypes and videos. This year we had many unique challenges for our group. We have the new sixth-graders, we lost much of our previous years' leadership and new leadership has come on. We took on a new challenge with competing in the Lexus Eco Challenge this year, and we also had the addition of Mr. Worthington to our group and it's been a really great year."

Principal Vesey stepped in and thanked Blackburn and Worthington for their own tireless support of the students, noting that nothing would be possible without their time and dedication to the school's STEM club.

Blackburn reminded the students that STEM is much more than the four separate curriculum areas of science, technology, engineering and math.

"STEM is really a way of thinking, of learning, of problem solving," he said. "At every meeting you had to do critical thinking, you had to use creativity, you had to collaborate with one another and you all did a phenomenal job. You all worked hard, and you are not just prepared for these challenges today, but you are prepared for your future and beyond. You will go out into the workforce and you will be asked to collaborate, to use teamwork, and creativity, all things you have been learning to do. It's been such an amazing and fun year, and I salute you all."

Mayor Allan Fung gave citations from the city to the Verizon App Challenge team and to the two faculty advisors, and thanked all who were involved in the STEM club at WHMS. He spoke to the students about the critical thinking and life skills they had learned by participating in STEM challenges.

"We are all proud of you and proud of all your efforts both as individuals and as part of your teams," he said. "Many of us older adults didn't have the opportunity to study such great things, so we thank you very much and we congratulate all the winners and all the participants."

Verizon's Regional Director Michele Cinquegrano, congratulated the Verizon App challenge winners for this year's win and told the students how proud she was to attend this event at WHMS year after year, she stated that she looked forward to returning again and again to celebrate the school's future wins.

The awards ceremony was followed by an after school celebration for all of the STEM students who had participated in any challenges during the school year so far.

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