Caring for the Kenai #innovation #relevance

When Caring for the Kenai stepped into its twenty eighth year, Nikiski High School junior Carlee Rizzo took first place honors and a $1,600 cash award in the annual environmental and natural disaster preparedness contest. Carlee created an interactive presentation and video game to teach elementary school children that “it’s not too late to save the environment.”


The CFK essay prompt challenges high school students to respond to the question “What Can I do, invent or create to better care for the environment of the Kenai Peninsula or improve the area’s preparedness for a natural disaster?” The contest is typically assigned in 14 Kenai Peninsula classrooms. Carlee entered voluntarily, without being assigned CFK for a grade.

In her essay submission, Carlee wrote, Teaching children that they can counteract others’ bad choices is essential if we are going to save the earth. We need to educate the youth if we hope to build a better world and video games can help to do that. … The power of one can be a game changer. One person’s actions can truly make a difference. Who is that person going to be? Will it be you?”

Taking second place and earning $1,100 was Soldotna Prep freshman Erika Arthur with a self-watering lettuce tower, intended to be installed in locations on the peninsula.

“It will be inexpensive, easy to build, and students will be able to have fresh lettuce for their salad instead of chemically treated imported lettuce. … I want to better the community's well-being by decreasing the amount of imported foods, and more of homegrown products.”

Both Carlee and Erika demonstrated their prototypes during Thursday evening’s oral presentations in front of a crowded Little Theater at Kenai Central High School.
In third place and claiming a $900 prize was fellow Soldotna Prep freshman Ryder Giesler with a Partnership To Ban Paper and Plastic. Ryder was in a unique position since his original proposal, written last November, had been recently fulfilled by the Soldotna City Council, which passed a plastic bag ban earlier this month. Ryder described to the judges how he testified at the recent SCC meeting and was planning to hand out 100 reusable bags (with the help of student volunteers and members of the National Honor Society) to Soldotna shoppers on Sunday, April 22, 2018, also known as Earth Day.

Ryder wrote, “

Through volunteering to handout 100% recyclable bags on Earth day, the citizens of Soldotna can partake in an epic partnership with local businesses that support our city, environment, and our fellow Alaskans.

Taking fourth place honors and $750 was Kenai Central High School freshman Marek Grieme with a boot cleaning station designed to capture invasive species at popular trailheads. Coming in 5th and winning the $650 prize was Daisy Kettle, a Homer High School Sophomore, with a plan to start composting in Kenai Peninsula schools. Kenai Central High School freshman Riley Graves won 6th place and a $550 prize with a magnetic beach sweeper which would clear nails, tent pegs, and other metal debris from Kenai beaches. Riley plans to present his idea, with a complete demonstration, at the Kenai City Council meeting to be held on May 2.

In addition to the $8,000 in cash awards for the finalists, this year $20,000 will be awarded to the schools’ science departments. Thanks to the CFK signature sponsor Andeavor and the community partners Kenai River Raven Lodge, Hilcorp Energy, Peninsula Community Health Services, ConocoPhillips, Sweeney’s Clothing, and Peninsula Radiation Oncology Center.   High schools using CFK as part of state standards curriculum were: Kenai Central High, Soldotna Prep, Ninilchik, Homer, Seward, and several home school students. Students can enter every year of their high school career, whether the contest is assigned in class or not.

Each school receives $750 for their participation and the remainder of the $20,000 will be allocated proportionately to how the students ranked in the CFK competition. Additionally, close to 20 students will receive special recognition awards from local businesses and individuals.

Other finalists that earned $400 each for making it to the final 12 out of 400 plus entries were: 

  • Mya Betts, Homer High, Fishing Nets in Our Waters
  • Hunter Warren, Homer High, Creative Beach Art
  • Colby Marion, Homer High, Bottle Tax
  • Christian Kuczmarski, Soldotna Prep, Stop Styrofoam Trays
  • Parker Kincaid, Soldotna Prep, Left To Your Own Devices
  • Emma Mullet and Vanessa Beck, KCHS, Caring For the Currents

This year’s contest was noted for its unusually high scores and the level of camaraderie shared by contestants behind the scenes.

“One student brought a tub of homemade cookies for all the finalists,” shares CFK Outreach Director Katie Quinn, “Another was running through the halls to make sure to high five the last team before they went on, and these kids had never met each other before.

“Over the span of two hours, I heard hockey players bonding over past sporting conflicts, girls talking about how they’ve never mixed with students from other schools like this before - even during ‘inter-school’ events - and I watched competitors share tips and tricks for making the very best presentation, even though there was real money on the line!

“I finally understand why Merrill gets up every year and talks about the CFK kids as though they were his own. I wanted all of them to win; and ultimately, they did and we did as a community.”

In addition to cash awards the finalists will receive the 2018 CFK hooded sweatshirt.  Saturday, April 28th finalists, teachers and guests will attend the CFK V.I.P Awards banquet hosted in their honor by Andeavor at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska. 

All of the nearly 400 participants that entered the contest will receive a custom battery pack for charging handheld electronic devices.  This year’s oral presentation judges included Cameron Hunt (Andeavor), Tim Dillon (Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District and Challenger Learning Center of Alaska), Dick Erkeneff (Kenai River Raven Lodge), Charlie Pierce (KPB Mayor), John O’Brien (Asst. Superintendent KPBSD), Jade Gamble (AK Dept. Environmental Conservation), and Anya Hondel (2017 CFK Winner). Caring for the Kenai is administered as part of the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska educational programs.

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