“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?”
In the 32nd year, on April 21, 2022, students, judges, and the community gathered in person for the first time in three years for the live Caring for the Kenai Top 12 event. Overall participation was lower again this year following the pandemic trend. However, the final 12 ideas were innovative and some were entirely new to the competition!
Superintendent Clayton Holland, a judge for the live competition said, “The Caring for the Kenai highlights all that is good with the Peninsula. The outstanding staff working with our students, the support and engagement of parents, and the hard work, vision, and critical thinking of the students themselves. This competition shows what happens when students are given the space to be creative, when they work hard, research, and apply their skills to a project that has meaning and impact to all of us here on the Kenai Peninsula. I congratulate every student who took part in this event and I thank all the educators who have worked to prepare them. Well done!”
Abigail Youngberg of Cook Inlet Academy took top honors and a $1,600 cash award in the 32nd annual Caring for the Kenai environmental awareness competition for her “Smart Stocker” idea. “The Smart Stocker would prepare everyone for a natural disaster before it happens by getting them emergency food and supplies so they can be prepared,” said the CIA sophomore, She has reached out to Kroger and other major grocery chains to see if they are willing to help her further develop her app.
A sophomore from Nikiski Middle High School earned second place and $1,100 dollars with her B.E.E Bold curriculum for elementary school students, “My curriculum is taught by high school students using near peer teaching to educate elementary school children about the environment across the Peninsula,” explained Jessica Perry. “I see my curriculum as a bridge for younger kids to prepare for the CFK competition,” she said.
Lauren Lamb of CIA created “Karen for the Kenai” and took 3rd place and the $900 cash award for her digital picture book series about the environment, “I got the idea from a joke my dad said at the dinner table one night and now I’ll be looking for a publisher,” said Lamb in an interview.
Mylan Johnson, a junior at Homer High plans on using recycled French fry oil to power cars, “I was inspired by a friend who powers his boat with vegetable oil. I started researching the idea and found out it had been forgotten and I plan to bring it back to life. I see myself collecting oil and one day converting my diesel truck to run on veggie oil,” said Johnson who earned 4th place and $750 cash.
Kim Leslie, a KPBSD Distance Education teacher from Seward drove to Kenai to the live competition to encourage and support Madison McDonald whose idea took 5th place. She said, “‘I’m interested in CFK but I don’t have any ideas.’ That is usually the first response I get after pitching Caring for the Kenai to my students. ‘Yet,’ I say. ‘You don’t have any ideas yet.’ And then we talk… about where we live, about what they care about, worry about, wonder about. And then the ideas emerge. And that’s the beautiful thing about CFK: they only need an idea. There is no expectation that their idea will truly take off the first year and become a tangible product or effort or event. That might come later with iterations but the first year is just about the idea. As a teacher, this means I simply need to create the space, the time and the support to nourish those ideas—which is pretty easy! The kids are the ones doing the heavy lifting, the real thinking, the research, the interviews, the building, the designing. So CFK is the perfect storm of what science education should be. A student-driven process of inquiry that leads to an authentic, relevant, community-enriching outcome. Yee ha!”
Madison McDonald a KPBSD Connections Homeschool student is creating a free earthquake safety app for kids who find themselves in a real natural disaster situation and want to know what to do next. Her idea won her 5th place honors and a check for $650. In 6th Place winning the $550 dollar cash award with his idea for the microbial use of oil spill cleanup was another Mariner from Homer High, Lucas Nollar.
In addition to the $8,000 in cash awards for the finalists, this year $20,000 will be awarded to the school’s classrooms of the finalists thanks to the CFK signature sponsor Marathon Petroleum Corporation and the community partners Kenai River Raven Lodge, Peninsula Community Health Services, Sweeney’s Clothing, Eyewear Express, Hilcorp, ConocoPhillips, Kenai River Sportfishing Association, and KSRM radio group.
High schools using CFK as part of state standards curriculum this year were: Soldotna High School, Cook Inlet Academy, Homer High School, Kenai Central High School, and Nikiski Middle High School. 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 is allocated according to how the school’s students ranked in the CFK competition. Other finalists that earned $400 each for making it to the final 12 out all the entries submitted were:
- Laurel Matson & Rebekah Dillingham-CIA for their new CFK jingle.
- Regan Baker – Homer High – for his Electricity re-invention
- Caleb Wohlers – Soldotna High – with a Free Play idea
- Micah Scott – CIA- Polluted Minds
- Conner West – CIA- RTEC using recycled tires for erosion control
- Hazel Pearson – Homer High- Decreasing Alaska’s clothing waste
“CFK is an opportunity for Peninsula students to have a real-world experience. The creativity and resiliency of our community and our youth during these trying times brings hope for the future,” said Merrill Sikorski CFK creator. Due to student scheduling conflicts the joint chamber presentation scheduled for April 28, 2022, will now be held May 11, 2022, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Center along with the Soldotna Chamber scholarship awards and is open to the public.
This year’s panel of judges included KPB Assembly president Brent Johnson, Bruce Jackman (Marathon Petroleum Corporation), Clayton Holland, KPBSD Superintendent, Tim Dillon, KPEDD executive director, Ben Wright, PCHS, executive director, Shannon Martin, KRSA executive director and Emily Moss (2021 CFK 1st Place Winner).